Polyethylene terephthalate is a common polymer used to manufacture packaging. It is also a highly recyclable plastic resin and is the most widely recycled plastic in the world. In South Africa, this plastic is used to manufacture bottles, vegetable punnets yoghurt cups and clothing. Due to the fact that it is easily recyclable as well as the fact that it has many benefits, it is South Africa’s second most popular packaging material.

The recycling process of PET is a little different from other materials, which are usually picked, sorted and then hand-cleaned before being processed. Instead, PET is sorted and processed using technology because of the sheer amount of PET recyclable waste in the country.

Recycling PET with automated technology

Just like other recyclable plastics, PET products are collected by waste management companies and informal waste collectors. The PET plastic is then bailed into dense packs to be transported to the recycling plants. The bails are then fed onto the production line. In this line, they pass under strong magnets which remove any metal contaminants on the plastic. The Pet is then fed into a hot washer. This removes remaining contaminants such as sand and other dirt. The labels on the PET products are also removed during this process; they are then sent to another recycling line. The clean PET is then sorted using high-speed optical sensors and infrared cameras. The PET is then sorted into batches of clear, brown, green and mixed colours.

Once sorted the PET batches are then sent to the granulator to be turned into ‘snow flakes’. These are then cleaned and sent to a heater where they are dried. They are then melted in a high-temperature oven. The melted PET resin is then extruded, cooled and cut into pellets which are sold to plastic manufactures.

This is not the only method used to recycle PET products. Companies across the globe are turning to chemical recycling of plastic as a more sustainable way of recycling plastics such as PET.

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