Plastics|SA says waste reduction is possible

Plastics|SA’s executive director, Anton Hanekom

The most popular cosmetics and pharma packaging recycled in South Africa is shampoo bottles, closures and outer packaging such as shrink sleeves. This is according to Annabe Pretorius, GM of the South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO).

The challenges in recycling these products are the combination of the materials used in the different components of the packaging.

These statements come in the wake of Plastics|SA’s recent announcement regarding plastics recycling figures for the year ending 2017. The country’s input recycling rate is at 43.7 percent. This is well above Europe’s recycling rate of 31.1 percent. These results indicate plastics recycling has continued to grow, which has been the case over the past seven years.

Performance despite challenges

Plastics|SA’s executive director, Anton Hanekom, comments: ‘South Africa is doing well with recycling. The latest results show we are slowly but steadily beating the odds.’

The South African recycling industry is based on economic principles whilst recycling is an environmental principle subscribed to by most citizens and local councils in Europe.

Recycling needs to be financially viable in order to succeed in the South Africa.

‘Regionally we rely on manual labour to sort the waste and recycle compared to overseas [Europe] where the entire process has become mechanised. There are landfill restrictions in place for recyclable and recoverable waste in some of the European countries. In South Africa, there is formal waste management for only 64 percent of households. More than 12 percent of metropolitan households do not even have regular refuse removal, much less a two bin waste collection system where recyclables are collected separately on a weekly basis,’ Hanekom explains.

More to be done

Over the years, access to good quality, relatively clean materials before they reach landfills has been one of the biggest challenges to building the country’s recycling industry.

Despite the call for separation at source, where recyclable materials are separated from non-recyclables, 74 percent of the plastics recycled during 2017 were obtained from landfill and other post-consumer sources.

In the European community, government and the plastics industry are all involved in acquiring recyclables from waste streams as early as possible.

‘It is a sad reality in South Africa that recyclables are still being sourced from landfill at high costs and posing dangers to waste pickers,’ Hanekom highlights. ‘Landfill material is often poor quality, contaminated and expensive to recycle. 

Job creation and the economy

In 2017, plastics recycling provided an income to more than 58 100 workers. This figure includes self employed waste pickers, employees of smaller entrepreneurial collectors and formal jobs in recycling factories. There were increased tonnages per employee, which reached 53.8t – seven percent more than 2016. Through the procurement of recyclables, an estimated R448 million was injected into the economy at the primary sourcing level. Although the recycling rates of plastics tell an impressive story, local recyclers faced an uphill battle selling their materials.

‘For the second year in a row, recyclers had more recyclate than is required by immediate and existing customers. This posed operational challenges, as they were unable to sell their stock. Developing suitable end markets is critical for the sustainability of the plastics recycling industry,’ Hanekom highlights.



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