Milk bottles set the standard for successful recycling in South Africa

Last year over 75 per cent of High-density polyethylene (HDPE) milk and beverage bottles were recycled, injecting a significant amount of material back into the market to be repurposed.

The Polyolefin Responsibility Organisation (Polyco) provides insight into this recycling trend and what factors lead to its success.

HDPE plastic icon

HDPE plastic is a very common material used in the beverage packaging market and has a very high recycling rate

What is HDPE?

HDPE plastic is a very common material used in the beverage packaging market and has a very high recycling rate. Over 20 000 tonnes of HDPE enters the market per year of which over 17 000 tonnes gets recycled – making it the plastic with one of the highest recycling rates.

Why HDPE bottles are a recycling success story

  • The milk bottle has been specifically designed for recycling. It is made from white or clear HDPE, is heavy enough (approximately 40g) to give it sufficient value for waste reclaimers to collect, has an easily removable sleeve label and the cap is made from HDPE as well. Brand owners and retailers have a key role to play when specifying the design of their products.

 

  • Fresh milk is mainly distributed in the large metros and therefore there will either be separation at source programs in place or the waste reclaimers will actively be separating materials of value either on the kerbside or at the landfill. Due to the fact that milk does not contaminate the bottle, it is a highly sought after material as it does not have to be heavily cleaned.

 

  • The major mechanical recyclers are all based in or close to the major metros and will be looking for clean white or clear HDPE, so they will pay a good price for the product – which again encourages its collection.

 

  • There is a strong end-use demand for white or clear HDPE recyclate which is used in quality critical products such as body care or detergent bottles. This drives the mechanical recycling demand, which in turn stimulates the collection of the material.

‘HDPE Milk bottles are designed perfectly for recyclability and they have a high recycled market value. Driving the right design for recyclability is a key focus area to further grow the recycling economy,’ says Naudé.

Looking at ways to enhance the recycling economy is directly in line with Polyco’s mission to end plastic waste in the environment through collaboration to invest in new infrastructure, innovate for designing for recycling and educating consumers about the role they play to grow recycling in SA.

‘Plastic plays a fundamental role in preserving the quality of food products, including dairy,’ says Polyco CEO, Mandy Naudé. ‘As consumers we need to understand that we have the responsibility to ensure that this material’s life-cycle is extended to extract the maximum amount of economic value and to keep it out of landfills. All we have to do is separate the packaging for collection and recycling.’

Many brand owners and retailers are exploring the move from plastic to other materials due to consumer pressure and the belief that this other material is the more environmentally friendly packaging option.

Polyco’s research shows that HDPE milk bottles have a significantly higher recycling rate compared to the materials currently being explored, which are not easily recycled.

‘Help us achieve a 100 per cent recycling rate for HDPE milk and beverage bottles by ensuring you and your neighbours recycle your bottles,’ concludes Naudé.



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