Do you reuse yoghurt, ice-cream and margarine containers?

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Hout Bay is the name of a coastal suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. It lies in a valley on the Atlantic Seaboard of the Cape Peninsula and is twenty kilometers south of the Central Business District of Cape Town. The name Hout Bay can refer to the town, or the bay on which it is situated, or the whole valley.
Hout Bay is the name of a coastal suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. It lies in a valley on the Atlantic Seaboard of the Cape Peninsula and is twenty kilometers south of the Central Business District of Cape Town. The name Hout Bay can refer to the town, or the bay on which it is situated, or the whole valley.

Do you reuse plastic containers? If you do, research has highlighted that you are part of a significant proportion of consumers who reuse these tubs made from polypropylene (PP), extending their lifespan and keeping them out of landfill sites.

Led by the Polyolefin Responsibility Organisation NPC (Polyco), the PP tub reuse research aims to guide a higher-level of repurposing for these plastic packaging items by improving their design, for reuse and recyclability.

Mandy Naudé, CEO at Polyco, said: “We initiated the research with The Moss Group to determine the extent to which margarine, ice- cream and large yoghurt tubs are reused after their original use.

Plastic containers add to waste.

“We wanted to look at this market sector and understand how much of this PP packaging material is placed on the market, how much is recycled, how much is landfilled; then calculate what percentage of these tubs are reused in households.”

To collect this consumer data, 1 550 respondents were engaged telephonically, via online surveys, face-to-face interviews and social-media polls to get feedback on what they do with large yoghurt tubs, margarine tubs and ice-cream tubs.

Plastics near trees in Myanmar.
Plastics near trees in Myanmar.

“More than 80% of respondents who participated in the research indicated that they repurposed these plastic tubs, most commonly for food storage, food distribution and household storage,” said Naudé.

At least 103 million large yoghurt tubs, 80 million margarine tubs and 31 million ice-cream tubs are produced each year in South Africa, equating to an average of more than 10 000 tons of this plastic packaging entering the market.

The high repurposing rate results in lower volumes of PP plastic tubs entering landfill or landing up in the natural environment.

Available beach litter data, collected around the country in 2019 and 2020, and provided by a team led by Professor Peter Ryan and Dr Maelle Connan, supports this and indicates that these tubs make up around only three percent of the 12 378 bottles and tubs that were catalogued.

“Supporting the efforts of our PP tub research, we will use these results to guide PP packaging producers and their customers to improve the design of tubs for repurposing,” said Naudé.

“Design adjustments such as increasing the strength, improving the lid fit, and having removable labels, will lead consumers to use these items as storage containers for longer.”

While the reuse rate of these PP tubs is high, the recycling rate of PP plastic products is approximately 30%.

“This consumer insight research has allowed us to understand what drives the reuse behaviour, which will be very important for brand owners, who under EPR regulations will be required to manage their products at end-of-life to prevent them going to landfill.”
Mandy Naudé, CEO at Polyco

Reusing PP tubs for storage is a temporary solution and eventually these products will need to be disposed of. PP plastic tubs should be designed for circularity, not to be landfilled, said Naudé.

Designing products for post-consumer recyclability has now been made a requirement by government. “This consumer insight research has allowed us to understand what drives the reuse behaviour, which will be very important for brand owners, who under EPR regulations will be required to manage their products at end-of-life to prevent them going to landfill.”

New extended-producer responsibility (EPR) regulations are now requiring producers to take responsibility for their products to ensure that consumers can reuse and repurpose products and then recycle them with greater ease. Driving the market for PP recycling, designing products for recyclability, creating accessible recycling facilities and increased consumer awareness, will increase the recycling rates of these products and lower the volumes of plastic going to landfill.

To find out more about the PP tub research and Polyco, visit the website www.polyco.co.za

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