South African PET recycling rates amongst the highest in the world

Plastic PET recycling bottles

The latest recycling statistics have been released by Plastics SA and the results show solid improvement. South Africans can be proud of their recycling efforts so far. The country currently recycles 15% more than most European countries. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles are some of the most recycled products in South Africa. 

South Africa recycled around 519 400 tonnes of plastic in the last year alone, which gives us an input recycling rate of 46.3% for all plastics. Of this volume, 74 328 tonnes were PET beverage bottles. PET recycling has steadily been increasing over the past five years. The waste management and plastics industries expect PET recycling volumes to reach 70% by 2022.

Beverage producers and plastics manufacturers are working with the government and waste management companies to further improve these recycling rates of plastic bottles. The majority of PET bottles collected for recycling comes from landfills around major urban areas. Improved collection and recycling in small towns and remote communities would give the PET recycling statistics an additional boost.

PET recycling rates improve every year

The recycling rates for PET bottles has shown steady improvement over the past few years. South Africa currently recycles around 67% of all plastic PET bottles produced – this figure was 55% in 2016. This puts South Africa slightly ahead of international standards and makes the country one of the world-leaders for recycling.

The improvement in recycling rates can be attributed to a number of factors. Firstly, South African consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of recycling and responsible waste disposal practices. Secondly, more businesses and restaurants are starting to implement recycling initiatives. Household and workplace recycling practices are becoming more commonplace.

Thirdly, the government is slowly updating waste management regulations and frameworks for recyclable waste. For example, the City of Johannesburg implemented mandatory recycling in households in 2018. This legislation ensured proper separation at source of recyclable household waste from organic waste and non-recyclable refuse.

Waste generation also adds to the increase in PET recycling

South Africa and the rest of the continent is producing more waste every year – in fact, experts predict that the volume of waste generated in Africa will double by 2025. This growing volume of refuse also means that there is more to recycle; driving up recyclable waste volumes every year.

The government and industry are making huge investments into post-consumer recycled PET products (called rPET). Most of this rPET is being used to manufacture new beverage bottles. A large portion of rPET is also used to produce plastic sheeting for punnets and trays, used in the food industry and for packaging. PET is the only recycled material that can be used in food-contact applications without the risk of contaminating food and drinks.

South Africa is on the right path when it comes to plastics recycling. The steady improvement in PET recycling statistics is expected to continue in the years to come. “Recyclables are a valuable resource and should be removed from the solid waste stream before reaching landfill,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom. 

“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,” concludes Hanekom.

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Plastics SA represents all sectors of the South African plastics industry. ​Together with our associations, we play an active role in the growth and development of the industry and strive to address plastics related issues, influence role-players and make plastics the material of choice.

​Plastics SA has been mandated to ensure a vibrant and sustainable plastics industry in South Africa. The plastics sector is uniquely placed to meet the needs of a sustainable society and to deliver solutions to many challenges such as recycling, climate change, water scarcity, resource usage and energy recovery.

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Plastics SA Editor