For seven years running, South Africa’s plastic recycling rate has continued to grow. In 2017, the country recycled almost 335 000 tonnes of plastic waste – a recycling rate of 43.7% – which is more than the current European recycling rate of 31.1%. These statistics were recently announced by Plastics SA.
The major difference between South Africa and Europe is that, locally, recycling needs to be financially viable on its own in order to succeed. On the other hand, in Europe, recycling is seen as ‘the right thing to do’ for the environment and is often subsidised by governments.
“Locally, we rely on manual labour to sort the waste and recycle, whilst overseas, the entire process has become mechanised,” says executive director of Plastics SA Anton Hanekom. “South Africa is doing phenomenally well with its recycling, and I believe the latest results show that we are slowly but steadily beating the odds,” he adds.
Separation at source is important for recycling
“One of the biggest challenges to building our recycling industry over the years has been getting access to good quality, relatively clean materials before they reach landfills. Despite our calls for separation-at-source, whereby recyclable materials are separated from non-recyclables, a staggering 74% of the plastics that were recycled during 2017 was still obtained from landfill and other post-consumer sources,” says Hanekom.
Recycling initiatives such as those taken by the City of Johannesburg to enforce separation at source will only bolster the recycling industry and improve the rates for 2018. The plastic recycling industry provides over 58 000 jobs in South Africa. All-in-all, the industry provided an estimated R448 million for the local economy through the procurement of recyclable waste in 2017.
Averda offers waste sorting services (removing plastic, cardboard, paper, metal, wood and glass for recycling) along with regular waste collection. In an endeavour to encourage sustainable waste management practices, the company offers rebates to clients who minimise waste through recycling at the source.
Most commonly recycled plastics in South Africa
Once again, the most readily-recycled material in South Africa is low-density polyethylene packaging films. Examples of this plastic include grocery bags, cling films, sweet wrappers, moulded containers and geomembranes.
The recycling rate of PET bottles is also steadily increasing year-on-year. The drought in the Western Cape and the subsequent spike in the sales of bottled water added more PET bottles to the recycling stream in 2017. This is the second most common material to be recycled in South Africa.
High-density polyethylene plastic is the third most recycled plastic. This includes dense plastic bottles, drums and plastic crates. Other popular materials for recycling include flexible PVC (such as gumboots and garden hoses), rigid PVC (such as plumbing pipes and gutters), as well as polypropylene (such as woven tapes and domestic ware).
Creating an end-market for recycled plastics is a priority
All the recycling in the South African market is meaningless unless you can sell the recycled products at the end of the process. South Africa currently produces more recyclate than is needed by buyers, meaning that there is an excess of recycled plastic products on the market.
“For the second year in a row, the recyclers had more recyclate than was required by their immediate and existing customers. This makes it hard for them to survive and continue their operations, as they are unable to sell their stock,” explains Hanekom.
“For this reason, developing suitable end-markets has become critical for the sustainability of the plastics recycling industry,” he says. “By embracing recycling as a way of life, I believe we can bring about a change in attitudes and mindsets, even elevating plastics to become the environmental hero,” suggests Hanekom.
Averda is a leading waste management provider with over 50 years of experience across three continents. Through growth, transformation and engagement, we strive to find new ways of managing waste while protecting the community and environment.
By pairing international expertise with local insights, we have secured our position as one of South Africa’s most respected providers of waste management and industrial cleaning services. We also operate in the recycling, pipe inspection, CCTV, infrastructure inspection, hydro-demolition, high-pressure water jetting and catalyst handling industries.
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