The Polystyrene Association of South Africa recently unveiled their plan to tackle post-consumer polystyrene waste. The plan involves increasing the existing collection and recycling rates of this waste across the country.
“We have had phenomenal success with our various recycling projects over the last 11 years. During the 2017-2018 financial year, more than 6 300 tonnes of polystyrene were successfully diverted from our country’s landfills,” says Polystyrene Association CEO Adri Spangenberg.
“When considering how light polystyrene weighs (it consists of 94% air) and that our recycling figures in 2013 stood at 1 849 tonnes, this is truly an achievement of which we are incredibly proud,” adds Spangenberg.
Recycled polystyrene has various uses, such as producing picture frames, stationery and even to manufacture lightweight concrete. To make the concrete, the discarded polystyrene is chopped up and mixed with cement and crushed stone. The concrete is waterproof, fire-resistant and self-insulating. It is also cheaper than traditional cement-based concrete.
Problems identified in the polystyrene recycling process
According to Spangenberg, one of the major problems with the recycling supply chain is the collection of polystyrene and its separation from the waste stream. “There is a substantial and growing demand for the recycled material in South Africa and an abundant supply of polystyrene packaging material that can be recycled,” she explains.
“However, the industry has been experiencing bottlenecks in various areas of this supply chain. A desperate need for material has necessitated the industry to address the logistical issues that are hampering the recycling of polystyrene,” she continues.
“Much of our focus, energy and attention this past year has been on developing a workable, financially-viable solution which we submitted to government as part of our Industry Waste Management Plan,” Spangenberg adds.
The creation of polystyrene trading hubs
The association has come up with a solution to fix these logistical issues in the recycling supply chain; to set up polystyrene Trading Hub Clusters (THCs) that will represent all relevant industries in the value chain. These hubs will be formed in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.
The main aim of the THCs will be to facilitate the effective recycling of polystyrene in these three provinces. They will also ensure that the recycled waste has an end market into which new products can be sold.
“This is a centralised operation which streamlines the entire process by bringing polystyrene recycling under one roof within a geographical area, thereby relieving the pressure on waste management companies and government,” says Spangenberg.
“In effect, we as an industry are driving the implementation of a feasible business, taking responsibility for polystyrene earmarked for recycling into a [broad-based black economic empowerment] entrepreneur-managed operation,” she explains.
Setting up municipal recycling hubs in remote areas
Another solution devised by the Polystyrene Association is to set up small-scale municipal recycling hubs in the smaller municipalities of remote areas in South Africa. Each of these municipal recycling facilities will integrate the collection and recycling of polystyrene with the production of usable polystyrene-based products that will be manufactured on-site.
“We believe these recycling hubs will play an important role in growing the polystyrene recycling value chain and will provide much-needed job creation, transformation and recycling initiatives on a community level,” states Spangenberg.
“In effect, it will bring the solution of polystyrene recycling to the people at grassroots level and will empower them to improve their living standards and quality of life by being able to produce the material needed to address the housing crisis in their immediate area,” she explains.
The implementation of these municipal recycling hubs is already underway. “We will be launching our first pilot of a Polystyrene Recycling Hub in partnership with the George Municipality in the Southern Cape later [in 2019],” says Spangenberg.
“Land for the project has already been earmarked and discussions are well underway to get the recycling hub off the ground as soon as possible,” she adds. A number of other municipalities have already expressed interest in the hubs. By 2023, the association hopes to increase the polystyrene recycling rate to around 64%.
“Our industry is excited and supportive of the project because it allows them to demonstrate their commitment towards the environment and our country’s sustainable economic development through job creation, technological advancement and sustainable economic growth,” Spangenberg concludes.
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