26 Apr 2019

Myth Busters: Not all plastics are recyclable

There is a common misconception that all plastic is recyclable. But, sadly, not all plastic is created equal when it comes to recycling. And, considering how much plastic we come into contact with – and just how detrimental single-use plastics can be to the environment – it’s important to know everything we can about how to spot a plastic you can recycle.

Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Recycling your household plastic seems like a small act, but it has a big impact. Plastic bottles can be made into new bottles, clothes, furniture, or even toys for kids. And plastic packaging can be transformed into buckets, containers and much more. Recycling plastic also limits the need for raw materials and saves energy. It takes 75% less energy to make a plastic bottle from recycled plastic, than it does from scratch!

Why aren’t some plastics recycled?

There are a few cases when plastic isn’t able to be recycled. For one, coloured plastics are harder to recycle as they contain pigments that are hard to detect by sorting technology.

Some plastics are also made up of different materials, for example a chip packet with a foil lining. These are harder to separate, and more expensive to recycle. a lot of plastics degrade over time when they are recycled, making them less valuable and unable to be recycled again and again.


Luckily almost all plastics today carry the recycling logo and a recycling number, which makes choosing what to recyclable much simpler. Make sure you separate your plastics from the rest of your waste and, where you can, keep everything with the same number together. If plastic is not marked, it is generally a good idea to put it with the number 4 plastics.

Know your numbers

The various kinds of recyclable plastics are:

  1. Number 1 - PET - Poly(ethylene terephthalate): Soda bottles, water bottles, cooking oil bottles, and medicine containers. 

  2. Number 2 - HDPE - High-density Polyethylene: Containers for: laundry/dish detergent, milk, shampoo, conditioner, also various toys, and grocery bags. 

  3. Number 3 - V - Poly(vinyl chloride): Pipes, shower curtains, clear medical tubing, vinyl dashboards and seat covers. 

  4. Number 4 - LDPE - Low-density Polyethylene: Wrapping films, grocery bags, and sandwich bags.

  5. Number 5 - PP - Polypropylene: Tupperware, yogurt tubs, (orange) medicine containers, and plastic caps of soda bottles.

  6. Number 6 - PS - Polystyrene: Plastic cups, disposable cutlery and cups (clear and coloured), coffee cups, packing peanuts, Styrofoam insulation.

  7. Number 7 - OTHER: They are made of any combination of 1-6 or another, less commonly used plastic. 

The most common plastics that are recycled in South Africa are PET (or number 1 plastic), HDPE (number 2) and LDPE (number 4). Collection organisations will also take PP (number 5) and polystyrene (number 6).


Where to recycle plastic

You can put your pre-separated recycling on the street, just like you do with your normal rubbish, and it will be collected. Most collection organisations will take all the different types plastics together in one container and sort them at their sorting centres.

Or, take your plastic directly to a drop-off site. Drop-off sites might have separate containers for the different plastic types, so it’s a good idea to check what plastics are accepted at your nearest drop-off point before going. Visit mywaste.co.za to find your nearest drop-off point.

Recycling tips

  • Limit your consumption of single use plastics, like water bottles, and take advantage of a reusable water container at home.

  • Separate your plastics as much as possible at home before recycling. Different containers or bins at home can help make it easier.

  • Empty plastic bottles and containers before you recycle.

  • Rinse plastics before recycling.

  • Squash plastic drinks bottles to save space in your recycling container.

  • Remove pumps from liquid soap and cleaning product bottles as these are not recyclable.

  • Put trigger spray tops back on bottles.

  • Remove any plastic film or cling film from plastic pots, tubs and trays before recycling.

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