South Africa well ahead of Europe when it comes to recycling

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Photo by Plastic|SA

Plastics|SA recently released the plastics recycling figures for the year ending 2017, and for the seventh year running, plastics recycling in South Africa has continued to grow, with more than 334,727 tonnes recycled back into raw material. This gives South Africa an input recycling rate of 43.7% – well above that of Europe’s recycling rate that currently sits at 31.1%.

Anton Hanekom, executive director of Plastics|SA, the umbrella body representing the entire value chain of the local plastics industry, said the country was doing ‘phenomenally well’ in this area’. “I believe the latest results show that we are slowly but steadily beating the odds,” he added. 

He went on to explain that the South African recycling industry is based on economic principles whereas in Europe, recycling is an environmental principle subscribed to by most citizens and local councils. “In South Africa, recycling needs to be financially viable in order to succeed, whereas in Europe, it is the right thing to do. Locally, we rely on manual labour to sort the waste and recycle, whilst overseas, the entire process has become mechanised. Furthermore, there are landfill restrictions in place for recyclable and recoverable waste in some of the EU-28 countries, whilst in South Africa, we only have formal waste management for 64% of all households. More than 12% of metropolitan households do not even have regular refuse removal, much less a two-bin waste collection system where recyclables are collected separately on a weekly basis,” he stated.

“One of the biggest challenges to building our recycling industry over the years has been getting access to good quality, relatively clean materials before they reach landfills. Despite our calls for separation-at-source, whereby recyclable materials are separated from non-recyclables, a staggering 74% of the plastics that were recycled during 2017 was still obtained from landfill and other post-consumer sources."

The most widely recycled material in South Africa continues to be LDPE and LLDPE packaging films. PET beverage bottles, too, continued to show a steady increase over the last 4 years. Products made from HDPE, such as bottles, drums and crates formed the third largest group.

The  market for recyclates has been slower to evolve.“For the second year in a row, the recyclers had more recyclate than was required by their immediate and existing customers. This makes it hard for them to survive and continue their operations, as they are unable to sell their stock. For this reason, developing suitable end-markets has become critical for the sustainability of the plastics recycling industry,” Hanekom noted.

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