Latest survey indicates more South Africans are recycling than ever before

The latest plastics recycling figures released by Plastics|SA reveal that South Africans are recycling more plastics than ever before.

According to Anton Hanekom, executive director for Plastics|SA, the results of its annual survey into plastics recycling for the period ending December 2016, reveals 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.

The latest plastics recycling figures prove that more recycling is being done than in the past

Growing public pressure to recycle bears fruit

Last year, 1.144 million tonnes of recyclable plastic entered the waste stream, of which 41.8 per cent was recycled in South Africa based on input tonnages.  This is a year-on-year increase of 5.9 per cent,’ Hanekom explains.

During this period, a growing number of organisations and consumer groups became actively involved in upstream collection efforts. This resulted in a positive impact on the amount of plastics that were collected and recycled. Recycled tonnages grew by 35 per cent since 2011.

Plastics 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 tonnes of virgin polymer was converted into products in South Africa during this period – a mere 1.9 per cent increase compared to 2015,’ Hanekom adds.

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

‘Toward 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 bottle-necks and stock that does not move off their factory floors,’ he urges.

Markets for recycled plastics

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

Following closely in second position (18 per cent) 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 made up 15 per cent 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 was used for irrigation pipes for the agricultural sector (five per cent) and the furniture sector (five per cent) make use of PP for injection-moulded chairs and tables and PS for picture frames.

Developing the export markets

Whilst weak domestic currency favours the exportation of plastics, only five per cent of South Africa’s plastic recyclate was exported. The South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (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. Developing this market would be beneficial to both the recycling industry and the virgin traders,’ says Rudi Johannes from SAPRO.

The way forward

South Africa currently only makes use of mechanical recycling, which is because no other commercial facilities currently exist for alternative plastics recycling. Compared to Europe’s mechanical recycling rate of 29.7 per cent, South Africa can indeed be proud of its recycling rate of 41.8 per cent 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,’ Hanekom says.