Many of us think of plastic items as some of the least sustainable or recyclable products out there today. The way in which the general public discusses paper straws and glass bottles, it is easy to believe that anything plastic is killing the turtles and poisoning our world.
However, it is becoming increasingly evident that the topics of environmentalism, sustainability, and recycling are quite complex. It is reductive and inaccurate to say that all plastic is always harmful, and it may be worthwhile to check what your plastic products and packaging are actually made from and whether there are options for re-use and recycling.
Many plastic bottle manufacturers now use polyethylene terephthalate (PET) to produce their products. This substance may be difficult to pronounce for us laypersons, but it has some simple key factors that are worth learning. It is relatively inexpensive with high strength and low weight, obviously avoiding the common occurrence of breakage that glass bottles face. PET is also remarkably resistant to organic material and water. All of this is to say that plastic bottles made from PET might not be biodegradable, but they can be reused and recycled, with particular washing and care methods in personal consumer usage and then bigger scale methods of breaking down the chemicals and properties in the recycling process.
It is important that these factors are made apparent to consumers so that plastic is not always subject to single-usage and then thrown away to eventually end up in a landfill. This is where the dangers of plastic are high, when people do not know about the potential within PET bottles, and they neglect to have them return to plastic bottle manufacturers to be remade and then used again. Plastic collectors have become an integral part of this process as they find those plastic bottles that have been carelessly thrown away and bring them to the correct recycling facilities. Not only does this help the collectors by providing them with an income, but it also helps conserve our environment, and it aids the South African economy. The bottles that are collected by places like PETCO form part of a bigger business that positively impacts South Africa’s GDP, instead of just becoming waste and pollution.
As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. With this information, it is vital that we as the public make some changes in our own lives. Plastic bottles do not have to be single-use products – if they have not been in heat, do not have any cracks and have been washed well it is possible to re-use in the same way they were once used. But people also have shown creativity in using bottles for household storage, gardening, crafting and recreation. There is also the need to dispose of the plastic in a responsible way, opting to send the discarded products to the correct recycling facilities or to make it easier for local collectors to get the bottles to such facilities. Some consideration can go a long way when we see these collectors on the roads and in our communities. They are making our world better in more ways than one.