Latest stats show 62% of all PET plastic beverage bottles produced in SA in 2019 were collected for recycling
DESPITE global market contractions, and now the rolling economic impact of Covid-19, South Africa’s PET plastic recycling value chain has kept its wheels turning, delivering another positive annual recycling rate while creating thousands of jobs for informal reclaimers who returned to work under level three of the national lockdown.
According to new statistics released by the PET Recycling Company (PETCO), which is the producer responsibility organisation for the sector, 62% of all polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic beverage bottles placed on the market in 2019 have been recycled – a trend which is in line with global PET recycling rates*.
This amounts to 95 879 tonnes of post-consumer PET bottles collected, which would otherwise have occupied 594,448 cubic metres of landfill space and produced 144,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.
Aside from these environmental benefits, PET recycling also generated 65,900 income-earning opportunities among informal reclaimers and SMMEs, with R1.1 billion injected into the downstream economy via the manufacturing, distribution and sale of products made from recycled PET (rPET).
PETCO chief executive officer Cheri Scholtz said while the overall 2% year-on-year decrease in volume was disappointing, it was as good as could be expected, given the significant loss of installed capacity following the closure of one of the country’s six PET recyclers.
“The closure of Mpact Polymers had a significant impact on our capacity to recycle, with the remaining recyclers unable to pick up the slack as they were already operating at maximum capacity in the fourth quarter.”
On a positive note, Scholtz said the tonnage of rPET sold in South Africa – more than 23 904 tonnes – was similar to 2018, reflecting both the improving output at the remaining recyclers, as well as the increasing demand for rPET.
“This shows that consumers and brand owners are starting to take their product packaging’s ‘green credentials’ seriously,” she said, adding that light-weighting of bottles had also contributed to the decrease in collected tonnages of PET.
“Light-weighting, or not using more material than is necessary, is an important environmental step but our challenge is to encourage ‘right-weighting’, which is about finding the balance within the circular economy.”
If bottles were too light, the pressure would be on collectors to collect much more than they were able to, with the reduced yields creating a knock-on effect up the value chain and damaging the economic viability of the PET recycling model, explained Scholtz.
She said R372 million had been paid last year by recyclers for baled bottles delivered to their plants.
Of these bottles, 57% were recycled into polyester staple fibre (PSF), with 36% used for food-grade rPET, with the remainder going into end-use applications such as geotextiles and industrial strapping.
Looking ahead, Scholtz said the impact of Covid-19 on the industry would be substantial, owing to collapsed oil prices, further market contractions and an anticipated decrease in PET consumption of approximately 18%.
“While there has been an increased demand for PET in the packaging of hygiene products such as sanitisers, and personal protective equipment such as faceshields, the demand for clothing and household textiles has plummeted, putting pressure on PSF production.”
She said the country’s only bottle-to-bottle recycling plant, Extrupet, had been able to operate as an essential service under lockdown, which had helped to keep the value chain moving.
“Our recyclers continue to buy post-consumer PET plastic bottles albeit at reduced volumes, which is another positive for our industry, as many other material recovery processes haven’t been able to operate.”
PETCO chairperson Tshidi Ramogase, who is also the public affairs, communications and sustainability director for Coca-Cola Beverages Africa, said credit for effective PET recycling in South Africa was due to PETCO’s member organisations who paid the voluntary extended producer responsibility (EPR) fee on every tonne of raw material they purchased, as well as the brand owners and raw material producers who contribute additional grants.
“However, whilst we have 87% support in terms of volume of PET beverage bottles, 23% of the industry does not contribute to the work done by PETCO through EPR funding. We hope that PETCO’s track record in mobilising and sustaining the circular economy in PET will be an encouragement and we remain open to welcoming them as members.
“The 2019 results have been achieved through partnerships with business large and small, organisations and numerous individuals, making a tangible positive impact on the lives of South Africans, contributing significantly to the economy, and minimising the impact of post-consumer PET on the environment,” said Ramogase.
Article courtesy of PETCO.
21 May 2020
For immediate release
CSIR study shows reusable shopping bags have lower environmental impact
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has released the findings of a life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) of grocery carrier bags in South Africa. LCSA is a useful tool that unpacks the environmental, social and economic impacts of a product throughout its life cycle. The study shows that reusable plastic carrier bags are the best option in South Africa, as they have a substantially lower environmental impact compared to single-use bags – provided that consumers do reuse them.
The study, funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), provides an objective scientific assessment to inform government, producers, retailers, and consumers about the environmental and socio-economic impacts of different types of carrier bags. It aims to identify which bag is ‘best’ in the South African context.
“The results of this research are important in evidencing how we manage single-use plastics in South Africa” notes Dr. Henry Roman, Director of Environmental Services and Technologies at the DSI. “Although single-use plastics provide many benefits, there are also many avoidable plastic products that negatively impact our environment. Developing capability in LCSA allows us to make informed decisions on the most appropriate material for product design.”
The study assessed 16 types of carrier bags made from a range of different materials. It included the standard, single-use plastic shopping bags that most people are accustomed to, which are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), with varying levels of recycled content and a thickness of 24 microns. It also included several reusable and biodegradable alternatives.
Twenty-one environmental and socio-economic indicators were used to assess each bag. This included 18 indicators that are typically used in environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) studies (such as water use, land use, global warming, etc.). The team also developed a new indicator to account for the impacts of plastic pollution, which is currently missing from most LCA methods. Besides, two key socio-economic indicators (impacts on employment and affordability for consumers) were added, which are also missing from most LCA studies.
According to the findings, the best performing bag overall is the reusable plastic bag – also made from HDPE – but thicker and stronger (70 microns) than the standard 24 micron single-use bag. This bag is currently sold at one of South Africa’s major grocery supermarket groups for R3 per bag, with a 50c discount on grocery shopping each time it is reused.
The other reusable bags – made from other types of plastics, such as polyester (recycled PET) and polypropylene – also perform well.
While single-use bags rank lower, the best performing among them is the standard 24 micron HDPE plastic bag with 100% recycled content. Among the 24 micron HDPE bags, the higher the recycled content, the better the overall performance of the bag.
In general, biodegradable plastic and paper carrier bags perform poorly overall (except in terms of plastic pollution), due mainly to their land and water use impacts. Biodegradable bags (particularly those made from a combination of imported polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) and starch) only outperform the conventional 24 micron (single-use) HDPE bags if the latter has a recycled content of 50% or less.
While reusable carrier bags perform better overall, the single-use bags are best from an employment perspective. In particular, single-use paper bags perform well in terms of job creation, followed by 24 micron HDPE bags with 100% recycled content.
The COVID-19 pandemic may delay global action against addressing certain problematic single-use plastics as some retailers suspend the use of reusable bags in stores.
“While this study shows that reusable bags are the best option for South Africa if retailers and consumers want to use single-use bags now in the interim, then the 100% or 75% recycled content 24 micron HDPE bags are the next best solution. Increasing the recycled content of products will also help to create a demand and a market for waste plastic, typically collected by informal waste reclaimers, helping to improve their livelihoods during a difficult time, further compounded by the very low oil prices,” notes Prof. Linda Godfrey, Manager of the CSIR Waste Research Development and Innovation Roadmap Implementation Unit.
This LCSA capability now exists within South Africa and the CSIR. “We hope that brand owners will use this tool to inform the choice of products that they put into the South African market, to ensure that they have the best overall environmental, social and economic performance,” says Dr. Douglas Trotter, Manager of the Sustainable Ecosystems Area of business for the CSIR. “Sustainable product design is a critical part of South Africa’s transition to a more circular economy.”
The full report can be accessed at https://wasteroadmap.co.za/completed-projects/informing-decisions-on-single-use-plastic-carrier-bags/
David Mandaha, CSIR Media Relations Manager
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Innovative bottle spacers to treat asthma
An innovative approach is set to make a huge impact on treating asthma in South Africa, made more critical during the coronavirus pandemic. Asthma treatment is usually given by an inhaler, but to get medication more effectively to the lungs in a crisis, the use of a spacer along with the inhaler, or a nebuliser is required.
Extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions. The bottle spacer programme, pioneered at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town aims at bridging the gap between expensive commercial spacers and the need in low income communities. The team has tested and evaluated the efficacy of using plastic bottle spacers, which are immediately available, instead of expensive spacers.
This plastic bottle spacer not only allows the medication to work much more effectively, but also has the added benefit of minimising droplets in the air and ultimately reducing the risk to staff and patients becoming infected with the coronavirus.
When one uses an asthma pump directly in the mouth most of the spray hits the back of the throat and does not go into the lungs. A spacer is a chamber filled with air, with the asthma pump fitting into the back. When you spray the pump first inside the chamber and then breathe this air into one’s lungs, the spray goes into the deepest part of the lungs where it is needed the most.
“Since Prof Heather Zar first pioneered bottle spacers back in the late 90s using a manual burning technique, we have been using them at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. But from just a few hundred units a year, we needed to produce tens of thousands, to facilitate the large-scale use of spacers in the public health service across the country,” Prof Michael Levin, Head of Allergy at Red Cross and project lead, explains.
Polyoak Packaging partnered with Habitat industries to create a custom blow-mould base with an indentation in the shape of an asthma pump nozzle.
“During production when the bottle is blown and the plastic is still soft, air is blasted into the bottle base which creates the inhaler size extrusion. So, after that, the only small manual task is to slice off the end of the indentation leaving a perfect-fit attachment hole for the inhaler. Polyoak has even been able to include the Allergy Foundation website address on the base of the bottle,” continues Prof Levin.
“This is an example of an innovative boundary spanning project which aims to bring a low cost clinically-effective solution to patients across the province, and potentially the country,” says Dr Anita Parbhoo, Medical Manager at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.
Information Courtesy of Western Cape Government
“Safe drinking water is a prerequisite for protecting public health and all human activity. Properly treated waste water is vital for preventing disease and protecting the environment. The plastic pipe industry is therefore undoubtedly a critical sector that is relied upon by communities around the country for water distribution and sewage disposal, as well as by agricultural and mining operations who recently received the go-ahead to resume their operations,” explains Jan Venter, CEO of SAPPMA.
Repeating their concern about large segments of the country’s population that still do not have access to clean water for drinking, cooking or sanitation, SAPPMA said frequent hand washing with soap and clean water continues to be one of the first lines of defense against contracting the highly contagious Coronavirus.
As an emergency measure, the Government purchased 18 875 water tanks to make clean water available to remote areas. To date, however, only half (7 689) of these tanks have been installed four weeks after the declaration of a state of disaster.
“Whilst these tanks are a step in the right direction, it is only a temporary solution. The country desperately needs a reliable network of water and sewage pipes capable of serving the whole population. Permanent, piped water should be made available to these communities as a matter of urgency,” Venter stressed.
Several neighbourhoods in Port Elizabeth experienced the impacts of failing water infrastructure first hand shortly after the lockdown started. A critical pipe which supplied reservoirs in the city failed, causing reservoirs to drain and forcing people to queue to get water from tankers. The same could happen in municipalities around the country if the pipe infrastructure supplying water, sanitation, gas and telecommunications are not repaired, maintained or upgraded.
“Prohibiting our members from re-opening their manufacturing plants in order to be able to supply the pipes needed for infrastructure maintenance could have a direct impact on the quality of life of thousands of South Africans”, Venter warned.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in the USA classified pipe manufacturers as part of critical infrastructure involved in the water and wastewater systems sector and labelled them as “imperative during the response to the COVID-19 emergency for both public health and safety as well as community well-being”. As a result, it petitioned for these companies to be allowed to work during periods of community restriction, access management, social distancing, or closure.
Likewise, the British Plastics Federation stressed the importance of allowing plastic pipe producers to operate during the period of lockdown, stating that “after packaging, construction is the second largest user of plastics, where critical products include plastic pipe systems for both drinking water and drainage”.
“Plastic pipe manufacturing, distribution and installation must be allowed to function without further delay in order to provide communities with an uninterrupted supply of necessary infrastructure. All our members have been issued with clear guidelines to help limit the spread of the virus and ensure the safety of their employees. We therefore urge Government to evaluate what the consequences might be if these factories are kept closed any longer and to recognise the plastic pipe industry as part of the essential services exempted from the forced temporary closure,” Venter concludes.