Plastics SA Editor
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Plastic recycling: South Africa versus Europe

South Africa and Europe outlines on recycling plastic bottles

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.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

The future of plastic waste management in South Africa

Green plastic waste management bin

South Africa has a strong and resilient plastics recycling industry. Issues of waste collection and plastic recycling rates are hot topics at the moment – evoking emotional responses from various sectors of society. The fact is that a normal life would not be possible without plastics but the responsible and ethical disposal of these products is an issue in most countries around the world.

The future of plastic waste management lies in environmental protection, citizen education and participation from all sectors of society. Plastics are far too valuable to simply throw away. They need to be reused, recycled and fed back into a circular economy. This will ensure that the value of plastics is retained and sustainable economic growth can be unlocked.

“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,” he explains.

The following steps will pave the way for the future of plastic waste management in South Africa:

1. Develop waste management infrastructure

Plastics need to be collected and removed from the environment. The existing waste collection infrastructure needs to be improved in order to boost recycling collection, sorting and processing. Plastics need to be separated from non-recyclables at the source – in the homes of citizens, at restaurants, stores, hotels and businesses. Almost 34% of South Africans do not have access to any waste management services, so they need to be better equipped to deal with their waste.

2. Reduce contaminants in the recyclable waste stream

Just separating plastics from non-recyclable waste is not good enough. Often, these plastics are contaminated with food scraps and beverage remnants. This can affect the quality of a batch of recycling. A collaborative effort is required to minimise the contaminants in the incoming waste stream. Citizens can rinse their plastic waste with water – even non-potable greywater will do. Restaurant owners, baristas and retailers can start to improve the cleanliness of their recyclable waste too by rinsing the plastics.

3. Help recyclers sustain their operations

South Africa has around 300 recycling businesses. No matter their size, it is an ongoing struggle for recyclers to keep their businesses profitable with the rising costs of electricity, transport and labour. Many new entrants in the recycling industry are also not legally-compliant, which puts an unnecessary burden on the rest of recyclers. South Africans can support their local recyclers by dropping off their recyclable waste at these facilities instead of leaving it up to their waste management providers – many of which send the waste straight to landfill.

4. Develop alternatives for hard-to-recycle plastics

There are certain types of plastic that are difficult to recycle or are not economically viable to process. Alternative solutions need to be developed by manufacturers and recyclers for these plastics, such as turning them into cement aggregate for building blocks. Alternative methods of plastics waste disposal may also lie in chemical recycling and using waste to create electricity. Manufacturers can also work on making these types of plastic easier to process and more cost-effective to recycle.

The future of effective plastic waste management lies in collaboration between citizens, legislators, waste management companies, the government and plastics manufacturers. While Plastics SA works towards long-term solutions to plastic pollution, infrastructure needs to be improved, educational awareness needs to be implemented and responsible waste disposal needs to be enforced. 

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Citizens can help to improve recycling rates

Citizens collecting litter from beach

South Africa boasts some impressive recycling statistics. The country currently recycles more plastic than Europe. In 2018 alone, South Africa converted 352 000 tonnes of plastic waste into valuable raw material – about 67% of all plastic refuse. However, despite being a world-leader in mechanical plastic recycling, there is always room for improvement.

The plastics industry and waste management providers are working hard to ensure that all plastic waste is recycled. Consumers and South African citizens can help us reach our goal of a 70% plastics recycling rate in the next few years. By implementing recycling in the home, citizens can ensure that plastic waste is sent to the recycling facility instead of the landfill.

Recycling in the home will boost recycling rates

By implementing separation at source strategies in the home, more plastic waste will be sent to recycling facilities. Citizens should start to separate their plastic waste from non-recyclables and organic refuse at home. All waste placed in general garbage bins will be sent to a landfill. While some of the recyclable waste is collected and sorted at landfills, a lot of it remains in these facilities.

In addition, consumers should aim to rinse their plastic waste before placing it in the recycling bin. The water used for washing dishes can be used for this – not clean water – as water is also a scarce resource that we should be using sparingly. This will wash away any food and drink remnants that could contaminate the recycling batch. “Basic actions like rinsing, or, in water-scarce areas wiping out a food container before placing it in a bag, reduces contamination,” says Mpact general manager Nicholas Schild.

Cleaner plastics entering the recycling stream will result in a higher-quality recyclate at the end of the process. This means that products made from recycled plastic will be more durable, better quality and more cost-effective to process. “Consumer choice can add to the momentum of recycling and environment-conscious manufacturing practices,” says Schild. 

South African government calls for citizens to help

The South African government has already implemented two mechanisms in order to encourage citizens to reduce litter – the Plastic Bag Regulations and a plastic bag levy. However, these attempts have not curbed the prevalence of illegal dumping and littering.

“There are a whole range of areas where we need to see a behaviour change from our citizens. Single-use plastics are just one example,” says Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy. “The department is currently assessing single-use plastic products—plastic carrier bags, straws, earbuds, crockery and cutlery – and we will be conducting various stakeholder engagements in this regard,” she adds.

“With the proper coordination and consumer action, voluntary change can be a sustainable and cost-effective solution,” says Creecy. The South African plastics industry is looking at innovative ways to encourage citizens to recycle. Plastics are valuable products that make modern life easier and more affordable. Recycling plastics is currently a better solution than banning them, so we urge all South Africans to dispose of their plastic waste in a responsible manner.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Plastics are the future, but not plastic waste

Plastics chess piece and clock

Plastics are invaluable products that make our lives easier. A world without plastics would be hard to imagine – we use them every single day of our lives. The TOMRA Leads conference, which recently took place in Bulgaria, was attended by plastics industry stakeholders from around the world. 

The event investigated all aspects of the plastics value chain, including the advantages and disadvantages of sustainability initiatives and waste collection systems as well as the need for a shift towards a circular economy for plastics. Plastics manufacturers are already searching for long-term solutions to plastic waste, but every citizen and government department also needs to play a role by disposing of plastic waste properly and ensuring that adequate waste collection systems are in place.

South Africa has some of the highest mechanical plastic recycling rates in the world, compared to Europe and many other developed countries. South Africa has an input plastic recycling rate of 46.3% – we recycle around 352 000 tonnes of plastic into new products every year. 

The future of plastics starts with decisions today

Dr Volker Rehrmann, head of business at Area Sorting Solutions and guest speaker at the TOMRA Leads Conference, shares his solutions to the global problem of plastic waste. “First of all we need to collect more plastics and bring it into the recycling stream,” he says. 

“A big problem is leakage, and really most of that comes from South East Asia and Africa. We need to focus on those areas where there is no proper collection system. We can achieve a lot there,” he explains. Only 64% of South African households have access to municipal waste collection services.

“Take this message with you; it is not a problem to recover plastics from waste that is going to landfill. It can be done,” he says. The future of plastics lies in creating a circular economy.  Recycled plastic waste needs to be seen as a raw material that can be resold to the market to be used in the manufacture of new products.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

The state of South African recycling companies

Lego man representing recycling companies

South Africa has a very strong recycling industry. We are a world-leader when it comes to mechanical plastic recycling. Almost 520 000 tonnes of plastic waste was recycled in 2018 alone – that doesn’t include other recyclables such as metals, glass and paper. These high volumes of plastic recycling enable 58 470 South Africans to earn an income.

There is a minimum of 300 recycling companies in South Africa, varying from small enterprises to large-scale facilities. One-fifth of these recyclers converted 70% of the total plastic waste in 2018. The top 30 recyclers in South Africa currently process 54% of the country’s plastic waste.

Just over one-quarter of all recyclers have been around for three years or less and one quarter have been around for 20 years or more. The three most experienced recycling companies in South Africa have a total of 135 years between them.

How the South African provinces compare for recycling

Of these top 30 recycling facilities, 17 are located in Gauteng, six in the Western Cape, five in KwaZulu-Natal and one each in the Eastern Cape and Northwest. Gauteng has half of all recycling companies in South Africa. They handle 58% of the country’s recyclate. It is the province with the largest number of new entrants to the recycling industry and the greatest number of small-scale subsistence recycling operations.

Many of these small-scale recyclers around the country are dependent on clean, pre-consumer recyclables. These are plastic waste items that have not been used or purchased yet; offcuts from manufacturing processes and factory rejects. Even established recyclers have started to reduce their intake of contaminated post-consumer waste in order to reduce their operational costs.

New recycling companies emerging

An interesting trend emerged in 2018 – the four leading provinces (Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Northwest) recycled more tonnages in 2018 than in previous years, but the rest of the provinces actually recycled less. However, the tonnes per recycler has decreased across all provinces – 4.3% less, on average. This is due to new entrants and a growing business sector in the recycling industry.

There are new opportunities for recyclers in all provinces. Waste volumes are increasing, yet Gauteng currently handles much of the refuse from other provinces. The main challenge for new entrants in other provinces is to establish their own collection networks. Recyclers depend on collectors and waste management companies for their incoming recyclables. New entrants in the smaller provinces will need to establish these networks as there are currently no substantial collection systems.

This means working closely with local communities and municipalities in order to ensure that there is a mutual benefit for all parties involved. This takes time and capital investment, which new entrants may not have. Localised recycling solutions will benefit the government and the taxpayer. It is important to set up small-scale recycling ventures in more remote regions of South Africa.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Growth in South African plastics recycling sector

Arrows representing growth in South African recycling sector

The latest South African recycling statistics have been verified and released by Plastics SA. They show clear growth and improvement across the recycling sector on a year-on-year basis. In total, South Africa recycled 519 400 tonnes of plastic waste during 2018, representing a 46.3% recycling rate and making the country a world leader in mechanical recycling.

Of this volume, 70% was recovered from the landfill waste stream by formal and informal waste collectors. This saved South Africa 246 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere had this plastic waste been left to sit in a landfill. The country’s recycling sector is continuously growing and improving.

Difficult operating environment for recyclers

Despite the growth of the sector, 2018 was a tough year and presented many challenges to recyclers. The South African economy only realised a 0.8% growth rate – one of the worst-performing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. This affected all industries, including the recycling and plastics sectors, which still managed to stay afloat and improve from the previous year.

“With this economic backdrop, the last financial year was an extremely difficult period for established recyclers that had to navigate numerous challenges, including tough drought conditions, a steep hike in electricity prices, power outages, shifts in the regulatory environment (with waste licenses coming under the spotlight), problems with supply, competition in a saturated market, higher operational costs and crippling wage negotiations and strike action,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom.

“It is often said that one should not waste a good crisis, and this difficult period not only taught us valuable lessons, but also presented us with exciting opportunities, such as convincing most of the retailers to move their carrier bags from virgin to 100% PCR content after months of lobbying, and at the same time also improving the recyclability of the bags by reducing the filler content,” Hanekom explains.

Growth in local plastics recycling

South Africa has always had a strong waste management industry that is able to cope with the country’s output of waste. Many developed countries around the world used to export their waste to Asian countries, however, China started a trend by banning these waste imports. This forced Western countries to find alternative solutions to dealing with their own waste.

South Africa was not affected by this ban. Our waste has always been locally recycled into raw materials and new products. As a result, European recycling rates are 15% lower than that of South Africa, despite us only having formal waste management services for 64% of households. 

The plastics recycling industry provided almost 58 500 income opportunities for South Africans during 2018. Of these, 7892 were formal jobs and the rest were informal collectors that earn money by sourcing and collecting recyclable waste from landfills. Through these jobs, R2.27-billion was injected into the South African economy.

Growth in end-markets for recycled plastics

In previous years, the end-markets for recycled plastics were struggling. The demand for recyclate outweighed the supply of waste. However, South Africans have become increasingly aware of the importance of recycling and sustainable waste disposal practices. This means that more recyclate has been made available through the country’s recycling efforts.

More and more brands are also starting to incorporate recycled content in their products, such as plastic shopping bags and beverage bottles. These ever-increasing end-markets are vital for the sustainability of the recycling sector and the preservation of the environment. The majority of these markets are local – only 5.6% of our recycled raw material was exported to plastics manufacturers in neighbouring countries.

The demand for recycled waste has increased. The buying prices of these materials has grown by 15% since the previous year. More recyclers are being established and more businesses are being formed to supply recyclate to local and foreign industries. 

Over 67 000 tonnes of plastics recyclate was sold to the flexible packaging industry in 2018. The clothing and footwear industry purchased over 50 000 tonnes of recycled plastics. Agriculture, construction, rigid packaging and furniture are other popular end-markets for plastic recyclate.

These statistics prove that plastic is a valuable material that can provide economic benefits, even once it has been disposed of. South Africa and its citizens can be proud of their recycling efforts and the continued improvement in sustainable waste management practices.

“Recyclables are a valuable resource and should be removed from the solid waste stream before reaching landfill. 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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Plastics SA releases latest recycling figures

Plastic bottles crushed for recycling

The latest South African recycling statistics have been released by Plastics SA. The results reveal that the country has a dynamic and well-supported recycling industry and that plastics recycling rates are steadily improving year-on-year. These statistics come from 2018 as the figures had to be tallied and verified before public release.

The recycling and plastics industries both faced difficulties during the course of 2018; from a struggling national economy and increased electricity tariffs to shifts in waste regulations and industry strike action. However, both industries managed to stay afloat and make important strides forward. 

“It is often said that one should not waste a good crisis, and this difficult period not only taught us valuable lessons, but also presented us with exciting opportunities, such convincing most of the retailers to move their carrier bags from virgin [plastic] to 100% PCR (post-consumer resin) content after months of lobbying, and at the same time also improving the recyclability of the bags by reducing the filler content,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom.

Growth in plastics recycling

South Africa has always had high recycling rates, beating many developed countries. When China and other Asian countries banned the import of waste, many European countries battled to find alternative solutions to processing their waste. South Africa did not face this difficulty as the majority of our plastic waste is already collected and recycled locally.

As a result, South Africa processed 352 000 tonnes of plastic waste and turned it into raw material and recycled products – breaking the 350 000 tonne barrier for the first time ever. In total, the country collected 519 400 tonnes of plastics for recycling. South Africa recycled 46.3% of all plastic products in 2018, whereas Europe only recycled 31.1%, making us a world-leader in mechanical recycling. Plastics recycling also saved 246 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions; the equivalent to the greenhouse gases produced by 51 200 vehicles. 

Almost three-quarters of the plastic that was recycled in South Africa during 2018 was recovered from landfills and other post-consumer sources. The problem with this is that these plastics are often contaminated by food and other waste materials, which makes them more expensive to process.

The most widely-recycled plastic material in South Africa is low-density polyethylene (PE-LD and PE-LLD) packaging film. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles used for beverages are the second most-recycled plastic product, followed by high-density polyethylene (PE-HD) bottles, drums and crates. The recycling rates of polypropylene (PP) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics also showed a steady increase during 2018.

Recycling beneficial to the economy

The plastics recycling industry sustained over 7890 formal jobs during 2018. It is estimated that around 58 470 workers and waste pickers received an income through the entire recycling supply chain. This is 6000 more income-generating opportunities than in 2017. Through the procurement of recyclables, an estimated R2.3-billion was injected into the South African economy.

“Recyclables are a valuable resource and should be removed from the solid waste stream before reaching landfill.  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,” says Hanekom.

South Africa continues to be a world leader in plastics recycling as we have a robust industry. However, there is always room for improvement. Littering and illegal dumping continue to be a nationwide epidemic, threatening the environment and human health. The country needs to work towards improving infrastructure and service delivery in the waste management sector.

This, along with further campaigns to educate the public about the importance of recycling and the dangers of littering, will help to boost recycling rates. 2018 was a year of growth for the recycling sector. The steady improvement is a positive sign for the future of South Africa’s waste management and plastics industries.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Biodegradable plastics: blessing or a curse?

biodegradable plastic coffee cup

Biodegradable plastics are becoming more mainstream, but not all of those products claiming to be biodegradable are able to break down. The general perception is that these products will decompose and disappear if left in the environment. However, this is not entirely true.

Many of these plastic products that are labelled ‘biodegradable’ do not actually decompose fully. Recent studies by the University of Plymouth have shown that biodegradable plastic bags still remain intact after three years of being exposed to the elements, floating at sea or buried in the soil. These bags were still able to hold more than two kilograms of shopping at the end of the study.

Plastics are made from long chains of molecules, called polymers. These chains give plastics their well-known properties; strong, flexible, unreactive and durable. Biodegradable plastics are made from natural materials that form these chains – the polymers are supposed to break down naturally. However, there is no standardised timescale that has been specified in which degradation should occur.

Plastics that are labelled as ‘compostable’ have to adhere to stricter standards. These products are required to decompose under industrial composting conditions within three months. Biodegradable plastics, on the other hand, have no set time frame for their decomposition. This can mislead the public into believing that biodegradable plastics are alright to leave in the environment, either through littering or illegal dumping.

Plastics SA supports more sustainable products

Plastics SA welcomes and supports any innovative plastic products that promote sustainability and environmental preservation. We are working alongside plastics manufacturers, the South African government and other industry stakeholders to find a long-term solution to plastic waste in the environment.

We recommend that all plastics need to undergo an environmental impact assessment and cost evaluation. Any environmental claims need to be backed by science and empirical evidence before being marketed to the general public. These biodegradability and compostability claims need to comply with global standards, such as ISO 14021 for environmental labels and declarations.

Biodegradable plastics are not a solution to litter

South Africans should not assume that bio-based plastics have a lower environmental impact than regular plastics. While they may be made from plant-based sources, studies have shown that people are more likely to litter when they believe that their waste will decompose in the environment.

The fact remains that biodegradable and compostable plastics should still be disposed of properly. Recycling is an integral part of South Africa’s economy – recycling facilities process over 350 000 tonnes of plastics every year. Recycling still remains the most viable solution to plastic waste in today’s economy.

Bio-based plastics are not always biodegradable and biodegradable plastics are not always bio-based. Fossil fuel-based plastics can have an element of biodegradability. This is an important distinction as it will help to avoid confusion when addressing the societal and environmental concerns of bioplastics. This distinction will also remind South Africans that their plastics should always be recycled.

Consumers should avoid littering at all costs

While some biodegradable plastic products may decompose when left in the environment, sadly this is not the case for all products with the label. We urge South Africans to think carefully about their waste disposal practices, especially when it comes to compostable and biodegradable plastics. Littering and illegal dumping should be avoided at all costs, regardless of whether a product claims to be decomposable.

Plastics SA would like to encourage consumers to avoid irresponsible waste disposal practices and embrace our local recycling industry. While we work towards creating more sustainable plastic products, consumers can continue to recycle their plastic waste and work towards the country’s zero-plastic-to-landfill goals.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Turning plastic pollution into building materials

EcoArena PRA building blocks used in construction of a home

South Africa has some of the highest recycling rates in the world. We recycle more plastic than many of the European countries, but what happens to non-recyclable plastic waste? Often it is sent to landfill, but a new process is being developed that can turn this waste into sustainable building blocks for construction.

The Centre for Regenerative Design and Collaboration (CRDC) is making progress in their quest to convert non-recyclable plastic waste into brick-like blocks for the construction industry. These blocks are called EcoArena Pre-conditioned Resin Aggregate (PRA). Their PRA has been tested and used in cement blocks, paving stones, pipes, kerb stones and ready mix at between 5% and 10% per volume of the mix.

They are made by incorporating regenerated waste plastic granules with a standard sand-cement mixture to produce a highly durable cement block. The EcoArena PRA blocks are strong, durable and water-resistant; perfectly suitable for construction. Turning plastic waste into building materials is a cost-effective solution to upcycling the waste that would usually end up in a landfill. 

Using a similar process, post-consumer and post-industrial expanded Polystyrene (EPS) has effectively been recycled into lightweight concrete bricks and screeds. Well-known buildings such as the Zeitz Mocaa Museum and the Table Bay Mall in Cape Town have been built using these recycled EPS materials. Several tonnes of polystyrene have been diverted from South Africa’s landfills as a result.

Similar building materials have been used in other countries

Other countries have also been experimenting with plastic-based building blocks. Costa Rica has already used the EcoArena PRA blocks in a number of successful construction projects. In South Africa, the CRDC is working alongside other chemical manufacturers and major cement producers to refine the building blocks. The building materials are currently being tested in the Western Cape.

“In South Africa, there is an established and sophisticated cement industry. Against this, we need to create jobs, we need to clean up the environment and there is an urgent need for housing. Our plan is to use the Costa Rican model to initially launch in the Western Cape before rolling out the initiative nationally,” says CRDC chief executive officer (CEO) Don Thompson.

This sentiment is echoed by Adri Spangenberg, CEO of the Polystyrene Association of South Africa. She says that the lightweight concrete bricks made from recycled polystyrene have been identified as a major source of entrepreneurship and employment by municipalities. Local governments are eager to see polystyrene recycling and trading hubs established in their areas to help create jobs and meet the need for housing. 

The EcoArena PRA bricks are stronger than conventional concrete building blocks. They are also lighter and more durable as they are not affected by moisture or water. They are already proving to be a cost-effective alternative to standard building materials, while reducing plastic waste in landfills at the same time.

EcoArena PRA building blocks are a viable alternative

Using plastic waste for the benefit of the construction industry is a viable method to deal with pollution and promote the growth of the economy. It makes both sectors (the plastics and the construction industries) more sustainable and it provides a profitable solution to excess non-recyclable plastic waste.

Creating building blocks from plastic waste and cement could be the start of a viable circular economy – a system whereby waste is fed back into the product cycle to promote reuse and keep the value of waste items. Instead of leaving waste to sit in a landfill, a circular economy uses it to create new products that can be resold for the benefit of the economy.

South African construction firms should embrace the use of sustainable products, such as the EcoArena PRA concrete blocks. Products such as this will foster good working relationships between various industries, such as the construction sector, plastics manufacturers and waste management companies. 

Critically, this is not just a solution for removing vast quantities of plastic from our environment and achieving the goal of zero-plastic-waste-to-landfill. For the concrete and construction industries it provides a viable economic and environmentally-friendly solution that will reduce their own carbon footprint too.

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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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