To be successful in one’s profession, one must first master one’s skill. The same applies to recycling, where one should equip oneself with basic knowledge. There were doubts among Tzu Chi recycling volunteers in Seremban on whether the paper and plastic based beverage packaging could be recycled or not. Many were unsure if these would be accepted by recycling traders, as well as, what to do with them if they are rejected.
For this reason, the team leader of the recycling mission invited two recycling traders, David Choong and Jeffrey Lam, to provide clarifications to the volunteers. The two were representatives from a plastic recycling company and paper-based beverage packaging recycling business respectively.
Gaining new knowledge on plastic recycling
“There are more than 1,000 types of polymer,” David explained. Volunteers were in disbelief when he showed the list of international coding used on plastic materials.
Code #1 is used for drinking water bottles, the PET bottle, which is also the most common recyclable collected. This type of plastic is clear and could be recycled into clothing materials.
Next, David held up a non-transparent yogurt bottle and said, “This is #2 and the scientific name for it is High-density Polyethylene (HDPE).” Again, this is a common recyclable accepted by recycling traders. This type of plastic is usually non-or semi-transparent vastly used for packaging of beverages, detergents and shampoos.
Code #3 is found in household items, such as, water tank and water pipes. Its scientific name is Polyvinylchloride, also known as PVC. But due to its mixture with nylon, recycling traders do not accept water pipes discarded hence, these items can only be sent to government authorized companies for solid waste treatment.
Code #4 is called Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE), widely used in making plastic bags and wrappers. Due to its elastic nature, this type of plastic could be compressed and mixed with other plastic materials for recycling purpose.
Code #5, Polypropylene (PP), is most popular due to its intensity, hardness and heat resistance. It is largely used in household furniture like chairs, rubbish bins and water pails, as well as, instant noodles containers in the food industry. Some of the parts inside electrical appliances, like washing machine and fridge, have also made use of PP.
Code #6 and #7, known as Polystyrene (PS) and Expanded Polystyrene, commonly used in disposable utensils, are the most difficult elements to bio-degrade. Thus, they are strongly discouraged by environmentalists.
Code #8, which bears the scientific name of Polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), or Acrylic as it is commonly known, is mainly used in arts and advertisements. Acrylic can be recycled fully and is easy to manage.
Code #9 is ABS resin, a type of strong, elastic and heat-resistant material. ABS is greatly used in making engine covers and in the electronics industry.
Polycarbonate (PC) is code #10. It is highly heat-resistant and commonly used in the manufacture of cookie containers, recyclable utensils and milk bottles. When PC is burnt, it will release a strong scorched smell and black smoke.
Despite being involved in recycling activities for many years, volunteer Ng Kot Tee was unaware of the many types of plastic materials. She regretted not recycling HDPE in the past. With the knowledge gained, she hopes to differentiate and sort out the recycled items better moving forward.
Turning garbage into gold
Whenever we feel hot, we would quench our thirst with boxed or bottled drinks, without realizing that in actual fact, only 10% of the beverage packaging is recycled.
Jeffrey, who represented his company, then decided to work with Swedish based company, Tetra Pak, to collect the beverage packaging manufactured by the latter. As he has visited quite a number of landfill sites across Malaysia and seen for himself the space issues at dumping grounds, he has since thrown himself into the not-so-profitable recycling business.
Following Tzu Chi KL & Selangor, Tzu Chi Melaka and Tzu Chi Penang, Tzu Chi Seremban was next to collaborate with his company to collect the beverage packaging for recycling.
Jeffrey demonstrated on the spot the proper ways to manage the beverage packaging whereby cleaning is necessary before performing the “3F” – flip open the sides of the top, flap up the base, and flatten the box. He also addressed the concerns from the floor that separating the plastic cover from the packaging is not compulsory.
He later held up a piece of roof tile and told the volunteers that it was made from the recycled beverage packaging. Everyone found it unbelievable and some even stepped on it only to find the tile sturdy and solid!
Zhu Jian Huang, who has just joined the recycling mission for a few months, signed up for this training to satisfy his curiosity about the process that follows after recycling. He was certainly impressed at how a beverage packaging is turned into a roof tile.
Jeffrey also shared that the company is exploring opportunities to turn recycled beverage packaging into plastic particles and subsequently, not-for-sale memorabilia.
Protecting the Earth through vegetarianism
In recent years, global warming has been a hot topic of discussion. Apart from recycling and cherishing our resources, we should adopt a plant-based diet and reduce industrial livestock production to save our planet.
There is a common misconception that a meat-based diet is a balanced diet. To clear the doubts among the audience, Chow Chong On thus shared on the researches regarding vegan sources of protein.
Tee Chin Ming from Bukit Pelandok found the sharing beneficial and hopes to go green gradually. As for Jian Huang, he has pledged to start eating greens once a week.
Volunteers tried to find the category label on PET bottles. [Photograph by Wong Siew Chin]
Jeffrey Lam, a recycling trader, explained on the management of beverage boxes collected. [Photograph by Wong Siew Chin]
Zhu Jian Huang (left) was amazed at the various exhibits displayed. [Photograph by Wong Siew Chin]
Volunteer Chow Chong On shared with all on vegetarian protein sources. [Photograph by Wong Siew Chin]
Volunteer Ng Kot Tee listened and jotted down notes attentively. [Photograph by Wong Siew Chin]