Latest plastics recycling figures show more South Africans recycling


Tonnages recycled into raw material – In 2016, 1,14 million tons of recyclable plastic material entered the waste stream in South Africa, of which 41,8% was recycled, based on input tonnages. This is a year-on-year increase of 5,9 percent

SOUTH Africans are recycling more plastics than ever before. According to the results of Plastics/SA’s annual recycling survey for the period ending December 2016, there is a growing awareness of recycling and public pressure to recycle – resulting in more post-consumer and post-industrial plastics being made available for reuse.

 “Last year, 1.144 million tons of recyclable plastic entered the waste stream, of which 41.8% was recycled, based on input tonnages.  This is a year-on-year increase of 5,9 percent,” said Anton Hanekom, executive director of Plastics/SA, who released thelatest plastics recycling figures recently.

A growing number of organisations and consumer groups became actively involved in upstream collection efforts during the period, resulting in a positive impact on the amount of plastics collected and recycled. Recycled tonnages have grown by 35% since 2011, which is a major increase.


Industry takes strain

“The increase in recycling that was recorded was not as a result of increased plastic products that entered the market.  In fact, 1.518 million tons of virgin polymer was converted into products in South Africa during this period – a mere 1.9% increase compared to 2015,” Hanekom said.

He added that plastics manufacturing and recycling industries in South Africa and around the world have been taking strain over the past two years and that more end-market applications needed to be developed as a matter of urgency to ensure take-off for recycled materials.

“Towards the end of 2016, South Africa had 204 active recyclers who mechanically reprocessed plastics materials such as plastic packaging. Between them, they provided formal, permanent employment to 6,140 staff and supported the informal employment of 51,500 waste pickers and collectors. For the first time in many years, recyclers had an oversupply of recyclate in 2016. It is clear that the survival of the industry depends on creating more demand for recycled materials in order to prevent bottlenecks and stock that does not move off their factory floors,” he urged.


Markets for recycled plastics

The largest market (20%) for recyclate was in flexible packaging (20%) with PE-LD/LLD and PE-HD sold to refuse and carrier bag manufacturers.

Following closely in second position (18%) was the market for clothing and footwear where products such as rPET were turned into fibre applications and flexible PVC for shoe soles and gumboots.

Recycled rigid packaging applications made up 15% of the market, where plastics were recycled into items such as drums and buckets made from recycled PE-HD and PP as well as rPET for thermoformed sheet applications.

PE-LD/LLD recyclate used for irrigation pipes for the agricultural sector used 5% of the material and the furniture sector, where recycled PP is used in injection moulded chairs and tables and rPS in picture frames, made up a further five percent.


Developing export markets

“While weak domestic currency favours the exportation of recycled material, only 5% of South Africa’s plastic recyclate was exported.  SAPRO is currently also investigating possible cooperation with virgin raw material traders who have a footprint in other African countries and elsewhere in the world, as developing this market would be beneficial to both the recycling industry and the virgin traders,” said Rudi Johannes of SAPRO.

South Africa currently makes use of only mechanical recycling, as no other commercial facilities currently exist for alternative plastics recycling methods. Compared to Europe’s mechanical recycling rate of 29.7%, South Africa can indeed be proud of its recycling rate of 41.8% for all plastics.

“We cannot afford to rest on our laurels or ease up on our recycling efforts. Not only are brand owners and international organisations under increasing pressure to meet their sustainability targets, but plastics recycling also forms an integral part of the circular economy,” said Hanekom.

To this end, Plastics/SA has identified the following priorities to drive the industry’s recycling efforts:

  • Separation at source is essential.  Recyclable waste needs to be made available to the recycling value chain as close as possible to where it reaches its end of life.  We must not be over-demanding on the consumer.  Local government and NGO’s need to make it as effortless as possible for the householder to get rid of recyclables in the format that is acceptable to the collectors and waste management companies;
  • One-way packaging must be designed for recycling.  In a country where there is a vibrant mechanical recycling industry, recyclability must form part of the brand owner product design checklist;
  • Closer cooperation between role players. Waste producers, recyclers and brand owners need to work closer together with regards to understanding which packaging can be recycled or not, how to meet the needs and demands of brand owners and getting all the parties concerned to commit to a circular economy;
  • Greater awareness of recycling through education. Better knowledge and improved understanding are required with regards to what products can or cannot be recycled, how the collection and recycling process works and the type of end-products that are generated.

“Plastics recycling does, and will continue to, offer sustainable solutions for plastics waste. Whilst we are working tirelessly to satisfy the legislative requirements and zero waste ambitions aimed at reducing our carbon footprint, we also need to invest in development and innovation if we are to have plastics manufacturing and recycling industries that are sound and robust. All the members of the plastics value chain must engage with each other and commit to a true circular economy where the need for sustainable business practices are not ignored,” Hanekom concluded.