How to improve plastic conversion rates

The executive director at Plastics|SARecycling is a manufacturing process that needs to make money to be sustainable and economically viable.

Plastics|SA executive director Anton Hanekom, says the plastics fraternity adopted the aspirational vision of sending Zero Plastics to Landfill by 2030 early in 2014.

Industry associations, polymer groups and recyclers have been encouraged to unite their efforts to achieve these goals. More than 45.6 per cent of all plastic packaging that was put on the market were successfully collected and diverted from landfill during 2015.

South Africa has a thriving recycling industry that creates jobs for thousands of people. 

‘It is frustrating to see there isn’t an established recycling culture in our country. There is still too much plastics ending up in the landfill,’ Hanekom stresses.

Recyclers have to operate in an increasingly difficult business environment facing high operating costs, tight margins and challenges. These include load shedding, escalating electricity costs and water shortages.

Plastics| SA outlines what is needed to improve the country’s plastics recycling figures:

  • Political will – Decision makers and legislators are not always aware of the achievements and challenges at ground level. The plastics industry will continue to invite decision makers and legislators to recycling plants to inform them about the intricacies of plastics recycling. 
  • Stakeholder commitment – Plastics converters have committed themselves to voluntary levies. This is to encourage recycling and create awareness through the various plastics recycling organisations. More products need to be designed with recyclability in mind.
  • Quality of reusables ­– Waste pickers and collectors need to be educated on the various materials and basic chemical principles that impact on quality. Sorting processes need to be managed better.
  • Energy efficiency – Electricity usage is three to four times more for recyclers than converters for the same tonnages. Energy management must receive priority to minimise and optimise energy usage for water and electricity. Long-term planning for increased costs of energy must be looked at and maybe a considerion to self-generate energy.
  • Public awareness and education – Individuals need to be informed about separating-at-source and to insist on recyclable packaging. Consumers need to be educated about the removal of shrink-labels, separation of various components and cleaning of residual contents.
  • Alternate technologies – Not all materials can be recycled economically. The plastics industry should find some technology partners to tailor alternative recycling methods.

Hanekom highlights that the plastics recycling industry has achieved outstanding results in the face of many obstacles and difficulties.

‘We need to use these challenges to help us adapt to changing market needs and expectations.’

He concludes that the active participation of brand owners and retailers in the design of plastic products with recycling in mind will help take recycling to new heights.