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Polystyrene successes in South Africa

Polystyrene (PS) is the sixth most widely recycled polymer in South Africa. This plastic is lightweight and durable.  It is most commonly used in the food and restaurant industry. In fact, just over 5500 tonnes of PS was recycled in South Africa last year. Polystyrene is one of the most widely-used polymers for food storage and takeaway containers, making it a valuable polymer for the economy.

 

South Africa has some of the highest recycling rates in the world – last year we recycled 15% more plastic than Europe. Of this volume, PS packaging was the sixth highest polymer in terms of volume processed. Most of the PS plastic waste are fruit and vegetable punnets, meat punnets, takeaway cups and plastic cutlery. These materials are recycled into seedling trays, toys, hair combs and lightweight cement blocks for the building industry.

 

PS recycling is a successful industry

PS waste is a fairly common material processed at South African recyclers because it is readily available due to its popularity in various industries. PS is popular in retail applications, such as clear food containers, as well as in the food and drinks sector. It also has many uses in the construction industry as expanded polystyrene is a perfect insulator and lightweight building material.

 

The end-markets for clear containers and expanded packaging polymers, such as PS, are growing steadily year-on-year. The biggest end-market for recycled PS is plastic furniture, followed by domestic houseware. A small portion of recycled PS is sold to the construction sector, although this is a rapidly-growing end-market for this type of recyclate.

 

PS has a number of beneficial properties

PS is a unique combination of durability, economic viability and environmental performance. It has a low carbon footprint and uses very little energy to manufacture and recycle. One of the main advantages of expanded polystyrene is its resistance to heat, making it ideal for use as coffee cups, food containers and cutlery. PS is non-toxic and non-reactive, which makes it perfect for food contact applications and to prolong the shelf life of edible products.

 

High-impact PS is transparent and durable, which is why it is commonly used for fruit punnets and CD cases. It shows off the product contained within, while also protecting it during transport and sale. This type of PS is also used to make retail coat hangers, laboratory ware, printers and keyboards, as well as computer and television housings.

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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

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.