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.
We need to embrace a 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.
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
The industry is 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.
A 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 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 saleable products, the country could benefit from a cleaner environment and retain the value of plastic at the same time.
What is PET?PET is one of the most common polymers used for plastic packaging. It is mainly known for its use in the food and beverage industry. PET is used to make carbonated drink bottles, water bottles, plastic jars, vegetable punnets, food trays and strapping tape. It is also used in the textile industry (known as polyester). PET is a strong and durable plastic that can be flexible if stretched thinly. PET is widely recycled in South Africa – it has some of the highest recycling rates of any polymer, due to the sheer volume of products and packaging made from PET and its ease of processing. Over 74 300 tonnes of PET were recycled in South Africa during the last financial year and these rates have been steadily increasing for the past five years.
Benefits of PET packagingPET has numerous important characteristics that make it a valuable plastic. It is a naturally colourless and non-toxic, which means that it is ideal for use in the packaging industry as it allows consumers to see the product contained within and it does not contaminate products. It can also be easily dyed, as some beverage manufacturers do with their green or brown bottles to resemble glass bottles. PET is impermeable to liquids, which means that it is perfect for storing drinks under pressure. It also has a high strength to weight ratio, making it ideal as a protective packaging material. It will not shatter like glass jars and bottles, so PET is the most common replacement for these fragile packaging materials. Due to its lightweight nature, PET is highly economical. Less polymer is needed to create the packaging as it is strong. This results in cheaper transport costs and less energy needed for the manufacturing of PET plastic. It is a widely recycled polymer because it can retain most of its strength and flexibility characteristics after being processed. This makes recycled PET (rPET) a readily-available and inexpensive material. These characteristics and benefits make PET one of the most common plastic packaging materials in the world. ___ 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.
“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.