Plastics have been universally reviled as one of the scourges of our time, a result of our increasingly consumerist lifestyles. The recognition of their toxicity when left to degrade in the environment has now been overstated. Yet we continue to manufacture virgin plastic, derived from crude oil mined from the earth, and we continue to dump single use and other end of life plastic products into our landfills, fields, and water bodies, including 8 million tonnes a year into our oceans! The increasing need to recycle plastics is also being recognized however, and global recycling rates have steadily increased over the last few decades.
Chennai has a robust plastic recycling ecosystem, hugely supported by the informal sector that we have continuously championed over the last year. Waste pickers source plastic from landfills, curbside bins and unauthorized dumps, and sell to Kabadiwallas who themselves source enormous quantities from their vast network of households, commercial enterprises and institutions. A complex system of categorisation based on local nomenclature is what drives the first levels of this industry, but which remains largely unknown to the public. There is also a universal system of labeling known as the ATSM Resin Identification Code, that is embossed onto the bottom of most consumer plastic products. In this post, we will shed some light on the types of plastics that make your everyday goods, as well as the local nomenclature and its role in the recycling ecosystem.