The most recent plastic recycling statistics have been published by Plastics SA – South Africa’s representative body for the plastics industry that includes manufacturers, retailers and recyclers. These figures come from 2018, which may seem like a while ago, but they needed to be independently verified before being released to the nation.
The statistics show that South Africa has a resilient and robust recycling industry and that our plastics recycling rates are growing year-on-year. Despite the struggling economy and a number of challenges in 2018, the South African recycling industry managed to stay afloat and realise a 6.7% growth from the previous year.
“It is often said that one should not waste a good crisis, and this difficult period not only taught us valuable lessons, but also presented us with exciting opportunities, such convincing most of the retailers to move their carrier bags from virgin [plastic] to 100% PCR (post-consumer resin) content after months of lobbying, and at the same time also improving the recyclability of the bags by reducing the filler content,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom.
Plastics recycling is a growing sector
South Africa’s plastics recycling sector has always performed well. Our plastics recycling rates have beaten many developed countries for years. In 2018, South Africa collected 519 370 tonnes of plastic waste. Of this volume, 352 000 tonnes were recycled into raw plastics and other products – breaking the 350 000 tonne mark for the first time ever.
This represents a 46.3% input recycling rate for all plastic products. By comparison, Europe only recycled 31.1% of their plastic waste. This makes South Africa a world-leader in mechanical recycling. The volume of plastic waste recycled in South Africa during 2018 prevented 246 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere – that’s the equivalent of the emissions from 51 200 vehicles on the road.
Of all the plastics that were recycled in 2018, 70% were recovered from landfills and other post-consumer sources. This high volume of recyclable waste recovered from landfills suggests that the country now needs to focus on separation at source initiatives. This means encouraging consumers to separate their recyclable waste from organic waste and non-recyclables at home and at work.
“Recyclables are a valuable resource and should be removed from the solid waste stream before reaching landfill,” says Hanekom. Waste collection infrastructure can also be improved in more remote areas of South Africa. Currently, 34% of citizens do not have access to regular waste collection services.
The most widely-recycled plastic material in 2018 was low-density polyethylene (LDPE), such as packaging films and shopping bags. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) beverage bottles were the second most-recycled type of plastic. High-density polyethylene (HDPE), such as milk bottles, plastic drums and crates, were also widely processed. Polypropylene (PP) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics recycling also showed steady growth during 2018.
Recycling helps to boost the South African economy
The plastics recycling industry is an important part of the local economy. It provides formal employment for 7892 citizens. However, this is only a fraction of the total jobs that the industry provides. A further 58 470 South Aficans receive income-generating opportunities from the recycling sector; these include waste pickers, informal traders and individual recyclers.
The procurement of recyclables is big business in South Africa. Over R2.26-billion was injected into the South African economy during 2018, across the entire recycling supply chain. This is a vital source of income, not only for tens of thousands of South Africans but also for the entire fiscus when the rest of the economy seems to be stagnant.
“All stakeholders, including producers, manufacturers, brand owners, consumers, waste management companies and recyclers – have to work together to make plastics the material of choice, to manufacture locally, process it efficiently and to manage the end-of-life products in the most efficient manner that will benefit the consumer, the industry and the planet,” explains Hanekom.
Despite these incredible statistics, there will always be room for improvement. Littering and illegal dumping remain the two biggest contributors to environmental pollution and plastic waste in the oceans. South Africans need to start engaging in responsible waste disposal practices in order to protect the environment and further boost recycling rates. However, the steady improvement shown by the plastics recycling industry is a positive sign and a step in the right direction for South Africa.
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