Based on the latest plastics recycling figures released by Plastics SA, South Africans are recycling more plastics than ever before.
According to Anton Hanekom, executive director at Plastics SA, its annual survey into plastics recycling for the period ending December 2016 reveals that there is a growing awareness of recycling and public pressure to recycle – resulting in more post-consumer and post-industrial plastics being made available for reuse.
“Last year, more than one-billion tonnes of recyclable plastic entered the waste stream, of which 41,8 percent was recycled in South Africa based on input tonnages. This is a year-on-year increase of 5,9 percent,” says Hanekom.
During this period, a growing number of organisations and consumer groups became actively involved in upstream collection efforts, resulting in a positive impact on the amount of plastics that were collected and recycled. Recycled tonnages have grown by 35 percent since 2011.
Hanekom says: “The increase in recycling was not as a result of increased plastic products that entered the market. In fact, 1,5-billion tonnes of virgin polymer was converted into products in South Africa during this period – a mere 1,9-percent increase compared to 2015.”
Hanekom explains that the plastics manufacturing and recycling industries in South Africa and around the world have been taking strain over the past two years. More end-markets needed to be developed as a matter of urgency to ensure take-off for recycled materials.
“Towards the end of 2016, South Africa had 204 active recyclers who mechanically reprocessed plastic materials such as plastic packaging. Between them, they provided formal, permanent employment to 6 140 staff and supported the informal employment of 51 500 waste pickers and collectors.
“For the first time in many years, recyclers had an oversupply of recyclate in 2016. It is clear that the survival of the industry depends on creating more demand for recycled materials in order to prevent bottle-necks and stock that does not move off their factory floors,” he urged.
The way forward
South Africa currently only makes use of mechanical recycling, as no other commercial facilities currently exist for alternative plastics recycling. Compared to Europe’s mechanical recycling rate of 29,7 percent, South Africa can indeed be proud of its recycling rate of 41,8 percent for all plastics.
He says: “We cannot afford to rest on our laurels or ease up on our recycling efforts. Not only are brand owners and international organisations under increasing pressure to meet their sustainability targets, but plastics recycling also forms an integral part of the circular economy.”
Plastics SA has identified the following priorities that will continue to drive the industry’s recycling efforts:
- Separation at source is essential: Recyclable waste needs to be made available to the recycling value chain as close as possible to where it reaches its end of life. We must not be over demanding on the consumer. Local government and NGOs need to make it as effortless as possible for the householder to get rid of recyclables in the format that is acceptable to the collectors and waste management companies.
- One-way packaging must be designed for recycling: In a country where there is a vibrant mechanical recycling industry, recyclability must form part of the brand owner product design checklist.
- Closer cooperation between role players: Waste producers, recyclers and brand owners need to work closer together with regards to understanding which packaging can be recycled or not, how to meet the needs and demands of brand owners and getting all the parties concerned to commit to a circular economy.
- Greater awareness of recycling through education: Better knowledge and improved understanding are required with regards to what products can or cannot be recycled, how the collection and recycling process works and the type of end-products that are generated.
Hanekom concludes: “Plastics recycling does, and will continue to, offer sustainable solutions for plastics waste. Whilst we are working tirelessly to satisfy the legislative requirements and zero-waste ambitions aimed at reducing our carbon footprint, we also need to invest in development and innovation if we are to have plastics manufacturing and recycling industries that are sound and robust. All the members of the plastics value chain must engage with each other and commit to a true circular economy where the need for sustainable business practices is not ignored.”
For more information or to order the detailed report, visit www.plasticsinfo.co.za.