The problem with recycling plastic and what we can do about it

The term “recycling” is misleading when applied to most plastics.

“Recycling” implies that the product is reintroduced to the economy as a fresh version of itself. E.g., glass bottles are recycled to make new glass bottles, aluminium soda cans are recycled to make new soda cans and recycled newspaper is used to create new newspaper.

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However, when plastics are reprocessed their molecular bonds break down, leaving them of poorer quality and unsuitable to be used for the same purpose they were originally intended, so it is repurposed for a different (and often disposable, eg. refuse bags) product.

Proper recycling is expensive, and it is usually more profitable to simply produce fresh plastics from oil than to make the effort to reuse them. As such, almost all plastic is on a downward spiral that will eventually lead to a landfill or the environment.

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Local upcycling efforts

As citizens of Planet Earth, we can all do our part to ensure our oceans are preserved for future generations. Some awesome Capetonians are going above and beyond – let’s have a look at some of their initiatives.

The Ecobrick Exchange – Turning waste into preschools

The EcoBrick Exchange is a pioneering initiative that aims to reduce non-biodegradeable waste and build up South Africa’s infrastructure at the same time. It is based around the concept of the “EcoBrick”, a disposable PET plastic bottle stuffed full of non-recyclable plastic waste, like juice cartons and chocolate wrappers. These EcoBricks are collected and used to build childcare facilities. Their last project was to build upgrades to the Penguins Pre-School in Port Elizabeth. They are currently working with the City of Cape Town to to construct an ECD centre entirely out of sustainable materials.

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Plantastic – Creating bags and bangles from plastic litter

Plantastic’s tagline is: “Where the world leaves trash, we find treasure!” They make bangles and backpacks from plastic bags that they pick up in streets, oceans or from beaches – and call them Plantangles.

A Plantangle’s value lies simply in its presence – it is tangible and wearable proof that this piece of plastic is NO LONGER OUT THERE! It represents one less plastic bag washing into our ocean. They use Plantastic’s Geotagging app to take a photo and geotag the plastic bag’s location. Each Plantangle comes with its own webpage, showing where the plastic bag was picked up, the geolocation on a map and a photo of the Plantangle.

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7SeasRope – Fashionable bracelets from marine trash

7SeasRope was started by people who have spent their whole life working with and living by the ocean. On a daily basis there is a near endless tide of man-made debris polluting the water, shoreline and the effects it is having on the wildlife can constantly be seen.

7SeasRope is a company that conducts beach cleanups with the Gansbaai community and volunteer groups to remove this debris and help keep our coastlines the way they should be, and also to give the animals that inhabit them a safe place to live in.

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