Category Archives for "Industry News"

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.

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

Plastics and their role in creating a circular economy

Plastic bottles and circular economy logo

A circular economy is a new way of looking at product life cycles and how we consume raw materials. The linear model of consumption that we have used for centuries (take, make, use, dispose) is not sustainable. It requires us to use valuable raw materials and natural resources, which has negative effects on the planet and the climate.

A circular economy stems around the idea that we can feed waste back into the supply chain – essentially reusing and recycling our refuse to create valuable products that can be resold. This reduce, reuse, recycle model of consumption is far more sustainable and better suited to products like plastic and recyclable materials.

As society becomes more aware of its impact on the planet, people are finding more innovative ways to reuse their waste and retain its value, rather than letting it sit in a landfill. Plastics are a prime example of valuable recyclable materials that often get dumped in waste management facilities.

Society needs to embrace circular economy

A circular economy will only work if there is input from all sectors of society. The government needs to work alongside businesses, communities and individuals. Every South African will need to embrace recycling and actively participate in sustainable waste disposal practices in order for a circular economy to thrive.

The country currently has some of the highest recycling rates in the world, which is a brilliant start. Plastic recycling rates are improving year-on-year, but there is always room for improvement. Plastics are a valuable material and should be reused as much as possible. Even single-use plastic products can be reused in the home for a variety of purposes.

Public education and raising awareness of the importance of recycling is just one step to improving recycling rates. The plastics industry is also playing its part by working to improve the recyclability of its products.

The future of plastics is more sustainable

While most plastics are recyclable, they cannot be recirculated infinitely. After being recycled a number of times, the plastics start to become brittle. Plastics manufacturers are working towards making their products more sustainable and recyclable. 

The industry is also researching alternative ways to make plastics, such as creating products from plant-based polymers. This will allow the plastics to break down and decompose if left in the environment. The future of the plastics industry revolves around sustainability and the circularity of the products’ life cycles.

Another factor that influences the recyclability of plastic is its colour. Black plastic can be difficult to recycle because the infrared scanning sensors at recycling facilities cannot detect the black pigment. Luckily, many of South Africa’s recycling centres use manual labour to sort plastic waste so the black plastic is not a major problem.

Recycling facilities can be upgraded

Although plastics are perfectly suited to a circular economy, the recycling infrastructure in South Africa will also need to be upgraded if this system is to become a reality. Our waste management facilities will play a vital role in turning plastic waste into high-quality, reusable products that can be fed back into the supply chain.

The national government can support these facilities and invest in the upgrades in order to establish a circular economy in South Africa. This will not only help recyclers to increase their handling capacities but will also allow them to improve the quality of their output products. Private companies can also help to provide funding for the support of our recycling network.

A circular economy is not a farfetched idea, nor is it unattainable. By embracing recycling, improving the recyclability of plastic products and investing in waste management facilities, South Africa could benefit from a sustainable economy. By reusing plastic waste and turning it into sellable products, the country could benefit from a cleaner environment and retain the value of plastic at the same time.

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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.

Imagine a world without plastics

A world without plastics would be a world of accelerated environmental degradation. Banning plastics would mean that we would have to use alternatives and all of these require more energy to produce and transport.  

Please watch the latest video produced and released by Plastics|SA that tells the other side of the story: namely how a world without plastics also is a world of bleak economic prospects, because using alternative materials would make life more expensive.

Why recycling is better than banning plastic bags

Plastics bags at base of door

The calls for national governments to step in and ban plastic bags are growing. South Africa has already begun an inquiry into the impacts of a nationwide ban on plastic shopping bags. Other African countries, such as Botswana and Kenya, have already implemented these bans which include the manufacture, importation and use of plastic shopping bags.

However, a complete ban could have negative effects for the South African economy and the plastics industry, which currently supports over 60 000 livelihoods. Plastics SA believes that a better solution to plastic pollution lies in recycling, rather than a ban. The country is a leader when it comes to recycling.  

Recycling plastic bags is the best solution

The South African government can assist by providing better waste management systems and infrastructure to support recycling. This investment will also boost job opportunities as recycling facilities will be able to expand their intake and require more people to handle the waste. 

Recycling creates employment in a formal and informal capacity, which is beneficial to the South African economy. Improving the collection and recycling of plastics will not only benefit the environment but also the economy. The smaller recycling facilities just need a hand from the government. Citizens can also help by recycling their plastics rather than throwing them away in the waste bin.

Plastic shopping bags do have some advantages

Plastic bags still offer a range of advantages over alternative materials. They are very cheap to produce, which means they save money for consumers and retailers. They also have a lower carbon footprint than cotton and paper alternatives, producing fewer greenhouse gases during the manufacturing process.

When you think of litter, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a plastic bag. They are easily swept away by rains and winds, which makes them a common litter item found in the environment. But this would not be the case if they were all properly disposed of and handled by professional waste management and recycling companies.

The sheer abundance of plastic bags also means that they are a steady source of recyclable material for properly-equipped recycling facilities. This adds further economic benefits to the waste management sector and boosts South Africa’s economy. In a country where tens of thousands of people survive on picking waste and selling it to recycling facilities, plastic bags offer a source of income for many households.

For these reasons, we believe that recycling is still the best solution to tackling plastic waste in the environment. Better waste management strategies and practices will reduce litter, while keeping the economic benefits that plastic shopping bags bring to South Africa. 

These recycled bags can be reintroduced into the packaging stream which will save money and increase their lifespan. The government will need to carefully consider these impacts before making a final decision on the fate of plastic bags.

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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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