• Trevor Malgas

Did You Know: PET Trays are NOT Recyclable?


We pack everything in them. From our sandwiches, to our lovely fruits and vegetables, and they are cheap enough for street vendors to use them as packaging too. PET trays, are a life saver!... At least we thought they were.

PET is the plastic with the number 1 triangle sign, and is the most commonly used plastics material, that is being used to make bottles and trays. PET trays are the ones you would get when buying a sandwich, salad or grapes from your household supermarkets. Very convenient, but sadly, not recyclable.

If the PET bottles are recyclable, why are the trays not?

Though the tray is classified as PET, which is supposedly recyclable, technically, trays are not. At least, not in South Africa. As seen in the picture above, trays usually come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The composition of these trays is usually not guaranteed to be consistent, making them far more flexible and unreliable as compared to PET bottles. These physical characteristics are one of the causes for them not to be recycled in South Africa, because recycling plants and machinery are not suitable to convert the trays into PET flakes (PETCO, 2020). For example, try to imagine someone trying to fit a big square into a small circle? The two do not go together.

Then why is there a recyclable logo on the item?

As some producers use PET to manufacture the tray, they will put the logo there without doing research if the product is indeed recyclable. Also, there is usually a mismatch of understanding between manufacturers and recycling processors as to what is or can be recycled within the country.

So what can I do if I have the tray?

  • Plant small herbs in the trays to put in your garden.

  • Use the trays, with no holes underneath as a water bowl for your pets or set up a perch for birds to feed out of in your garden.

  • Use it to store bread tags or bottle caps, then get them recycled through your service provider once the tray is full.

Alternatives to use, to refuse PET trays.

  • Ask the shop to wrap your sandwich in paper. Its leaner, it makes sense.

  • Bring your own container to the shop to package the food items that may be placed in PET trays. You can also perhaps shop at stores where the items are sold loose. That way, you always pick the best looking food item in the bunch!

  • Prepare your breakfast and lunch from home, to avoid buying food and the packaging during the day. Save the planet, and save a few bucks while you are at it!


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