Plastic recycling: South Africa versus Europe

South Africa’s latest recycling statistics have been released and the country is doing well. We have some of the highest plastic recycling rates in the world. The industry provides income opportunities for just under 60 000 South Africans, many of which are informal collectors and recyclers.

How does the local recycling sector fare against other countries? South Africa’s mechanical plastic recycling statistics show that we are better off than Europe. In 2018, South Africa achieved a 46.3% input plastics recycling rate by converting 352 000 tonnes of plastic refuse into raw materials. In the same year, Europe managed a 31.1% plastics recycling rate. South Africa recycles 15.2% more of its post-consumer plastic waste than Europe.

This trend has been visible over the past decade. In 2017, the domestic plastic consumption in Europe was 51.2 million tonnes. Of this volume, 27.1 million tonnes were post-consumer plastic waste that was collected for recycling. This represented an 11% increase over the past 10 years. Over the same period of time, South Africa has grown its recycling tonnages by 64%.

Since 2015, South Africa started to report on input figures to align with international reporting methods. This has allowed Plastics SA to more accurately compare the statistics of South African recycling to those of the rest of the world. The statistics above are all for input recycling rates.

Different views on recycling

South Africa and Europe have differing views and philosophies when it comes to recycling. The South African recycling industry is based on economic principles, whereas in Europe, recycling is based on environmental principles. We recycle because it is a valuable industry that creates jobs and supports tens of thousands of families. Europeans recycle because it is good for the environment.

In South Africa, recycling needs to be a profitable venture for it to be viable; in Europe, it is the right thing to do for the planet. Only 64% of households in South Africa have access to formal waste management services. There are no landfill restrictions on recyclable waste. Europe regulates and restricts certain recyclables from entering landfills.

Despite these differences, South Africa still manages to recycle a larger proportion of its plastic waste than Europe does. Besides PET recyclers, South African facilities manually sort the waste by hand. European facilities use infrared spectrometers to sort their recyclables from non-recyclable waste. This means that South Africa can recycle certain products that Europe cannot, such as black plastics and thin packaging films.

South Africa’s plastics recycling rates have shown rapid and continuous improvement over the past decade. We have become a world-leader in mechanical plastics recycling. As the volumes of waste grow every year, so too will the volume of recyclable refuse. This means that the plastics recycling industry will go from strength to strength.


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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