Plastics industry shows signs of growth amidst tough economy


PHOTO: Although consumption of virgin polymers remained at 1,4 million tons for 2013 and 2014, the steady increase in consumption of recycled polymers has led to the overall consumption increase

PLASTICS/SA reported on solid growth during the last financial year and a positive outlook for 2016 at its AGM at the company’s head office in Midrand on 22 October.

“Although we certainly need to take heed of warnings from reliable economists, it is not all doom and gloom in the South African plastics industry,” said Philip de Weerdt, outgoing chairman of Plastics/SA.

“Despite some of the plastics subsectors experiencing a downturn in demand as they struggle to adjust to increased imports and changes in the market for their products, key opportunities still exist for growth. For instance, the recent phase-out of import tariffs on polymers and other inputs contribute to more competitive input prices,” he added.


Remaining strong in the face of adverse economic conditions

Plastics manufacturing contributes approximately 1.6% to South Africa’s GDP and 14.2% to the manufacturing sector and has been defined as a priority sector by government.  According to the latest figures released, local plastics consumption has seen a year-on-year increase in recycled (diverted) tonnages (9%), whilst virgin tonnage consumption has remained even at 1,400,000 tons.  Overall, when compared against the GDP growth of less than 2% during the same period, this is an achievement of which the plastics industry can be proud.


Growing plastics applications

An increased demand for all applications of plastic by South Africa’s growing middle-class has also had a positive impact on the industry this past year. Of the 1.4 million tons of plastics that entered the market during the past year, approximately 55% of all polymers went into packaging. A total of 29% of this was used in rigid packaging and 26% for flexible packaging. The third largest application of plastics in South Africa is in the building and construction industry (15%), followed by electronic appliances (6%), automotive and transport industries (5%), engineering (5%), agriculture (4%) and houseware (3%).

Polyolefins (PE-HD, PE-LD and PP) made up approximately 57% of the plastics market, followed by PET (13.86%), PVC (11.09%), and polystyrene (4.2%). Multi-layered and other plastic packaging materials made up 14.49% of the market. 

The recycling of the majority of these different types of plastics is now successfully driven by Material Recovery Organisations (MRO’s) such as POLYCO, PETCO, SAVA and the PSPC who act as a ‘conscience’ for the plastics industry by getting membership buy-in from plastic producers and spending those funds on worthy recycling initiatives that increase the recycling rate of their specific type of plastics.


Growing plastic recovery and recycling

Last year Plastics/SA set the pace for the recovery, recycling and diversion of plastics from the country’s landfill sites with its aspirational vision named ‘Zero Plastics to Landfill by 2030’. According to Plastics/SA’s executive director, Anton Hanekom, the most recent recycling survey has shown that plastic diverted from landfill increased by 12.8% from 2013.

“The plastics recycling industry is showing positive movement and due to the increase in the use of waste plastic as an input material in the conversion process, the demand for plastic waste locally has increased,” Hanekom said. The total plastic tonnage recycled was 20.3% of all plastics manufactured in 2014. A total of 22% of all plastics was diverted from landfill, of which 90.2% was mechanically recycled and 9.8% was exported for recycling elsewhere,” he added.


A major contributor to employment

According to the latest stats, unemployment has reached a 12-year high in South Africa, having increased to 26.4% from the last quarter of 2014.

“The challenge for us therefore remains to ensure that we continue to become more innovative and agile in creating opportunities that can contribute to long-term and sustainable employment,” Hanekom said.  He highlighted that the plastics recycling industry in particular has shown leadership and entrepreneurship in this regard, as it currently employs more than 47 000 people in the informal sector.


New board members announced

Plastics/SA’s newly elected board members for 2016 are: They are Anton Hanekom (Plastics/SA), Bernhard Mahl, chairperson (Safripol), Douglas Greig, deputy vice-chairperson (Tuffy Manufacturing), Jeremy Mackintosh, deputy vice chairperson (Polyoak Packaging), Douw Steyn ex-officio (Plastics/SA), Jaco Breytenbach (Transpaco Recycling), Jan Venter (SAPPMA), Loutjie de Jongh (Mpact), Mxolisi Khutama (Nampak Limited), Bob Bond (PISA), David Mokomela (Sasol Base Chemicals), Mike Myers (EPSASA), Leigh Pollard (HOSAF), Rowan le Roux (Polyoak Packaging), Wayne Wiid (Pioneer Plastics), Fernando Lopes (Engen Petroleum), and Helmut Oellermann (Plastichem).


Looking ahead

Government has requested that the plastics industry submit its waste management plans for the various sectors. Hanekom said the leadership is hopeful that this might be an indication that the plastics industry will be allowed to continue with current initiatives, without too much interference from government.

“During this past year, the plastics industry was forced to embrace change, adapt and face enormous challenges in a struggling economy which doesn’t always facilitate local manufacturing. We are grateful to those members of the industry who contribute towards our activities by way of membership fees. There are still raw material producers and importers who are not subscribing to the fees and we would like to encourage the industry to support the raw material producers and importers that support us, making it possible to fulfil our vision of enabling a vibrant and sustainable plastics industry in South Africa”, Hanekom said.