12 September 2012

Top recycling tips

From paper to PETs, here's a roundup of our top trash-busting ideas for National Recycling Day.


From paper to PETs, here's a roundup of our top trash-busting ideas for National Recycling Day.

Paper: keep it clean

Recycling paper saves hugely on landfill space, energy, trees and pollution, but don't hinder the process by including unsuitable items.

Office paper, magazines, newspapers, cardboard, telephone directories, pamphlets -- these are all great for recycling, as long as they're clean and dry.

Keep these items out of your recycled paper collection:

  • plastic, foil or wax lined/coated paper and cardboard boxes (e.g. juice and dairy cartons)
  • cement bags
  • dog food bags
  • stickers and  post-it notes
  • photographic paper
  • paper towels and tissues,
  • carbon paper
  • cigarette ends

Your local recycler may prefer you to separate higher grade paper from the rest (and some even pay you to do so), so find out from them.

Glass recycling: crystal clear

Glass is one of the easiest substances to keep out of the waste stream. All glass bottles and jars – clear or coloured, whole or broken, are 100% recyclable.

Recycling does a lot more than keeping bottles out of our landfills and broken glass off our beaches: it's much more energy-efficient to produce new glass products from recycled bottles than from freshly-sourced raw material. Recycling one glass bottle saves the same amount of energy as powering a 100-watt light bulb for an hour.

To find a glass bank near you, just SMS “Glass” and the name of your suburb to 32310, and voila. You can also find a glass bank near you online.

Note that the following kinds of glass aren’t suitable for bottle banks: light bulbs, car headlights, drinking glasses, crockery and cookware, window panes, laboratory glass, and computer and TV screens.

Cash for cans

Collect-a-Can, SA's top non-profit metal can recycler, makes recycling easy – and they even pay you for it.

Their focus is on used steel and aluminium beverage cans (soft drink and alcohol) as the worst litter offenders, but they also accept empty food, oil, paint and aerosol cans.

Steel and aluminium are both stars of the recycling world – they can be reprocessed over and over again, saving hugely on resources. Manufacturing products from recycling these metals uses about 95% less energy than from new metal.

You can mix all your cans together, but it makes Collect-a-Can's life easier (and they'll pay you more) if you separate them into the following groups before taking them to the drop-off point:

  • Steel beverage cans
  • Aluminium beverage cans (if in doubt about telling them apart: steel will attract a magnet but aluminium won't). 
  • Food, paint, oil and aerosol cans. These should all be empty, and not bigger than 5 litres. Note: if you have oil cans that still contain some oil, don't just dump it; oil is highly toxic to the environment. Rather take it to the Rose Foundation, which recycles oil, or you can ask your Collect-a-Can branch to do so. Obviously, if your cans still contain oil, keep them separate from the others.

Collect-a-Can will even accept rusty cans, although they'll pay less for them

Recycle your ‘PETs’

The simplest, most effective way to start recycling plastics: get PET soft drink bottles out of our landfills and turned into polar fleeces - among other things.

If you've been avoiding recycling plastics because the different types seem to make it a hassle, here's the simplest, most effective way to start: with the familiar plastic soft drink bottle, made of highly recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Instead of taking up useless space in landfills, PET containers can be recycled into a wide range of products, including "polar fleece" material, T-shirts and other clothing, carpet fibres, roof insulation, park benches - and other plastic bottles.

PET items are easily identified with the code “1”, marked on or near the base:

Apart from soft drink and water bottles, you'll also see the PET code on some other bottles and jars e.g. for peanut butter, salad dressing, oils, cosmetics and household cleaners, and food trays. Don't assume the product is made from PET; make sure it has the "1" code before recycling.

To find your nearest PET recycling point, look on PETCO or My Waste.

Pesky polystyrene

Polystyrene takes centuries to break down in the environment and is a major component of marine plastic pollution; it's toxic to animals that swallow it.

Common polystyrene items include CD cases, plastic cutlery, foam packaging and egg cartons, and can be identified by the recycling code “6” stamped on them.

For recycling, the Polystyrene Packaging Council currently recommends taking polystyrene to general plastics recycling drop-off points. See My Waste for drop-offs points near you. You can also contact the Polystyrene Packaging Council for more info about recycling and setting up collection points.

Used machine oil is toxic glop

Just 1 litre of used machine oil can contaminate 1 million litres of water.

When used oil is dumped or accidently washed into storm-water drains, it ends up in ground and surface waters, threatening the health of aquatic organisms and the safety of our drinking water supply.

Used oil is any degraded lubricating oil drained from machinery e.g. engines, gearboxes and hydraulic systems. It decomposes only very slowly in the environment, and it's full of toxic compounds such as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), to name just one type. Several PAH compounds are carcinogenic and mutagenic (i.e. they stimulate genetic mutation).

Keep used oil out of our waterways by taking it to the ROSE (Recycling Oil Saves the Environment) Foundation, a non-profit, environmentally responsible oil recycler with drop-off centres throughout the country. .

When hi-tech gets junked

We love our shiny new gadgets, but when we discard our old tech toys they become gigatonnes of e-waste.

E-waste is electrical and electronic waste, and includes everything from old kitchen appliances to computers and cell phones.

A strong trend of modern living is to stay up to date with the latest gadgetry; there's considerable pressure from advertisers and one's peers to "keep up" with technology.

The result is extremely high turnover of new gadgets, and useful and fun though these may be they add to a vast mountain of waste once we tire of them.

Many of these disused items contain a variety of valuable recyclable materials; they may also contain hazardous materials that require safe disposal.

Keep e-waste out of the waste stream and reduce resource exploitation for new appliance manufacture: find a drop-off point nearest you via the E-Waste Association of South Africa (EWASA). In some cases, you may be able to benefit from e-waste buy-back initiatives.

Join Coastal Cleanup Day

Saturday 15 September is International Coastal Cleanup Day.

Last year, 600 000 volunteers took part in coastal cleanups and removed over 4 million kg litter from the world's beaches.

Litter isn't only an aesthetic problem; it leaches pollutants and entangles marine life. Coastal Cleanups also count the litter items, and the top offenders have been found to be cigarette butts, bottle caps and lids, plastic bottles and bags.

So organise your own cleanup, or join one of the events at beaches and wetlands round the country e.g. Capetonians can join the Sunset Beach cleanup, hosted by the Two Oceans Aquarium in collaboration with Plastics SA, Transnet and the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative Email Bags and gloves will be supplied to volunteers

For Coastal Cleanup Day events in other parts of the country, see the contact list on the Clean Up South Africa web site.

(Health24, September 2012)


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