Deconstructing common litter types

Not all plastic litter is equal in the waste stakes. Understanding the difference between the more common types of litter, and especially plastic litter, goes a long way towards mitigating the amount of waste polluting our planet and oceans.

Biodegradable plastics: Think twice about claims that a plastic product is biodegradable or compostable and can therefore be discarded in the environment. Product labels only tell half the story. All plastic – including biodegradable and compostable types – must be paired with the right recovery systems, so that the material stays in the loop and out of nature.

Tyres: Few are aware that tyres are amongst the most common plastic polluters on earth. Tyres contain a high percentage of plastic, and in the form of synthetic rubber (a plastic polymer). They also contain natural rubber (19%), steel wires, textiles, and various fillers. Tyre wear and tear, for one, is a sneaky source of microplastics.

Paper bags: Considered a “greener” alternative to the typical plastic shopping bag, paper bags are generally biodegradable and compostable. Yet, even fully biodegradable paper bags take a while to decompose. Some paper bags are also coated with a wax or plastic layer, which makes them unsuitable for composting.

Cigarette butts: Tobacco filters are one of the biggest forms of plastic pollution worldwide. And don’t let the paper that wraps the filter fool you into thinking they are biodegradable. The filter is made from cellulose acetate, a type of plastic which can take years to break down. Once a cigarette is smoked, these filters also end up containing thousands of different chemicals, many of which are toxic to the environment.

Bottom line: If it no longer serves a purpose and needs to be discarded, treat it as waste that must be responsibly managed. SST is busy working on a comprehensive resource in this regard – watch this space.

Other Relevant Articles

SST’s new research lab 01


Business as usual at SST’s new research lab

SST’s relocation to new premises in Gqeberha has not halted our work in any way. Research is continuing at our new laboratory after special care was taken with ...



SST welcomes Chandru Wadhwani to its Board of Trustees

SST is delighted to welcome Chandru Wadhwani to our esteemed Board of Trustees! Chandru has been involved in the textile and plastics industries for the last 32...

2023 Annual Marine Debris Report BCSS-1


BCSS releases Annual Marine Debris Report

One of the main players in marine science in East Africa, the Bazaruto Centre for Scientific Studies (BCSS), has published its 2023 Annual Marine Debris Report,...

Follow our school of thought and sign up to our newsletter

We’re always factual, accurate and informed.