Plastic recyclate end-markets in South Africa

Plastic wheel on bin is one of end-markets for recyclate

Plastics recycling is currently one of the best solutions to pollution. However, for recycling to remain a successful and viable industry, there needs to be end-markets with continuous demand. Plastic recyclate is a valuable material that many plastics manufacturers are using to create products.

Plastic recycling has become a focus for many retailers and consumers. This has helped to increase the supply of plastic waste for recyclers. In turn, more recyclate is produced every year – South Africa processed over 352 000 tonnes of plastic recyclate in 2018 alone, surpassing the 350 000 tonne mark for the first time ever.

Suitable end-markets are vital for the sustainability of the plastics recycling sector. They ensure that the plastic recyclate has a purpose and can be sold for the benefit of the South African economy. The country currently exports 5.6% of its plastic recyclate to neighbouring countries and Asia. The rest is used in local end-markets, in conjunction with virgin plastics, if it is of good quality and up to national standards.

Domestic end-markets for plastic recyclate

The majority of plastic recyclate in South Africa is used to manufacture flexible packaging. Just under 20% is used to make recyclable shopping bags, bin liners and packaging film. Grocery bags from major supermarkets are being manufactured with a high content of recycled material which has helped to increase the demand for plastic recyclate in South Africa.

The next biggest end-market for plastic recyclate is clothing and footwear; 14% of recycled plastic is sold into this sector. Recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) fibres make up the bulk of this recyclate for the clothing industry. The rest comes from flexible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that is used to manufacture gumboots and shoe soles.

The agricultural sector consumes 13% of South Africa’s plastic recyclate. This material is used to produce irrigation pipes, feeding troughs, grain covers, fencing poles and numerous other useful products. The building and construction industry buys 11% of plastic recyclate. These materials are used to manufacture plumbing pipes, plastic fittings, conduit and plasticised floor tiles. Recycled beverage bottles are used for geotextiles and roof insulation.

End-markets that consume less than 10% of recyclate

Rigid packaging consumes 9% of plastic recyclate in South Africa. These products include plastic crates, buckets, pallets, boxes and beverage bottles made from recyclate. A large volume of rPET is also used to manufacture sheeting for thermoformed punnets and trays. rPET is the only recycled material that can, with specialised recycling equipment, be used in food-contact applications.

Recycled polypropylene (PP) and polystyrene (PS) plastics are used to create décor and furniture; accounting for just under 8% of recyclate in South Africa. Recycled PP is used to manufacture products such as chairs, furniture feet, end-caps and plastic furniture components. Recycled PS is used to make picture frames, skirting and bumper rails. A mixture of these recycled plastics can be used to produce wood composite planks for flooring and outdoor furniture and decking. 

The smaller end-market sectors for plastic recyclate include houseware (6%), mining and engineering (4%) and electronic cables and components (3%). South Africa also exports just under 6% of its recyclate to members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and select Asian countries such as China and India.

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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