22 June, 2018 22 June, 2018


Tuning “naught, no thanks” and turning your nose up to a plastic straw is a noble contribution to global efforts to combat our single-use plastic addiction‚ but what else? Are you chugging that flat white artisanal coffee with its single-use lid? Are you separating your plastic and making sure it gets into a recycling stream? Do you forgo products packaged in plastic which can’t be recycled?

“Everyone is getting emotional about all the plastic in our oceans‚ as we should‚ but most of us have blood on our hands in terms of the poor choices we make as consumers.” – Chandru Wadhwani‚ MD of major plastics recycling company Extrupet.

So let’s talk plastic!



Plastics, also called polymers, come in to fruition by linking klein building blocks, or unit cells. Those cells, or what dudes with white coats call monomers, are a mash-up of atoms derived from natural products or by the synthesis of primary chemicals by way of oil, natural gas, or coal. Where polyethylene is concerned, the repeat unit can be as simple as one carbon atom coupled with two hydrogen atoms. Whereas other plastics, such as nylons, the repeat unit can involve upwards of 38 atoms, quite a difference ey. Once a complete chain is assembled, monomers become strong, light, and durable making them mighty manipulable and useful, and consequently helluva problematic when discarded carelessly. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the very essence of plastic pollution.

Polymer-based materials are found everywhere in the environment, but their impacts are yet to be fully understood. The degradation of different polymer types has been extensively investigated under specific laboratory conditions. However, only limited data are available on their degradation under environmentally relevant conditions, where a number of processes are assessed at once. Basically, this means that we are still a long ass way away from fully comprehending the impact that polymers, or plastic as we have affectionately dubbed, has on the chemistry of the oceans. Sure we know its bad, but like is it bad or bad bad. 

Single-stream Recycling

This refers to a system in which all recyclables, cardboard, plastic, metal, glass etc, are placed in a single bin for recycling. These recyclable materials are then picked through either by some homie on the sidewalk trying to make an honest living and then transported to a recycling depot in exchange for some dollar or alternatively via workers at a materials recovery facility or MRF. Pretty convenient, right?Well yeah, if it all went ahead as planned. Truth is, so often plastics deemed recyclable end up in a landfill or our ocean. Soda-pressing.  

Pros and cons then ey. Well, advocates for the system would say it increases participation in recycling by the public, while nihilists would hold to the belief that it leads to more contamination, is more expensive and increases the trend of recyclables heading to landfills.

The ideal polymer based recyclable is clear‚ much like the plastic covering our mags.* This is one of the highest quality‚ most sought-after plastics, post-recycling. Other plastics with a tinge of colour are not so kiff, bad news for recycling‚ creating low-value resin for which there is little to no market.  

Public perception is a hindrance and getting consumers to appreciate the fact that recycled plastics are not trash and should never be transported to a mass unmarked grave (landfill) is a major challenge for Petco. And in South Africa, that’s exactly where most of the plastic bottles being recycled are coming from. You wouldn’t think it, but a large portion of the populace are hesitant to accept recycled products or products containing recycled material‚ he says‚ because they don’t like the idea of second-hand plastic which came from a landfill.

“They are exposed to the black refuse bags and know that they are made from or contain recycled material – they are a bit smelly and have tiny bumps‚ so the perception is that all recycled products will be the same.”


Single-use plastics

Plastic products designed to be used only once, such as thin grocery bags and the film packaging that envelopes everything from food to toys, is known as single-use plastic. Now single-use means exactly that. It can only be used once, then it effectively becomes a shitty reminder of our synthetic world. 

This is the reason environmentalists get behind the idea of people reducing their use of single-use plastics and to instead opt for more durable multi-use items, such as metal. In effect, Product packaging should be designed with its after-life as a priority‚ but unfortunately, many brand owners don’t think beyond marketing and cost. 

Worst of all, this kak is f**king everywhere. And in the past 30 years, it has forced its way into every corner of our lives, literally look around you, 100 bucks you can see 10 examples of what I’m talking about. We are addicted to the convenience of single-use plastic, try to get through a day without it. It’s tough as all hell. When you step back to consider this, it’s astounding how we think it’s normal (for the average person) to buy a single-use plastic water bottle, takeaway coffee cup, lunch wrapped in disposable plastic packaging, and possibly a plastic bag – EVERY day!

Now translate that all to the quantities of plastic that are required to feed that addiction throughout your life, you should be gasping for air right now, if not you gotta re-evaluate your feels bro… Fossil fuels take millions of years to form, then they are mined and manufactured into single-use plastic items, and shipped to where they are needed simply to be used for a couple of minutes before being discarded.

So no straw, now what?

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