More than 519 370 tons of plastics waste collected by SA recyclers

South Africa’s total plastics recycling rate has been applauded by the South African National Bottled Water Association (SANBWA) whose members are users of plastic products.

Referring to 2018 figures released by Plastics|SA, the umbrella body representing the entire South African plastics industry, SANBWA executive director, Charlotte Metcalf, more than 519 370 tons of plastics waste were collected for recycling, 6.7 per cent more than the previous year.

‘According to Plastics|SA, this 519 370 tons of plastics waste is equivalent to 46.3 per cent of the plastics waste produced in 2018 in South Africa, making the country one of the best mechanical recyclers in the world,’ says Metcalf.

‘The environmental impact of this recycling is that it saved enough oil to fuel 200 000 cars travelling 30 000 km/annum for one year, and saved 246 000 tons of CO2 – the equivalent emissions of 51 200 cars. Equally impressive are the socio-economic benefits. The plastics recycling industry provided direct employment to more than 7 800 people and created a further 58 500 income-generating jobs, while R2.3 billion was injected into the informal sector through the purchasing of recyclable plastics waste.’


PET recycling

The South African bottled water industry is a small user of plastic, most of it PET (polyethylene terephthalate). BMI puts the size of the industry at only 10 per cent of total non-alcoholic ready-to-drink beverages. By extrapolation, the bottle water industry therefore uses only 10 per cent of the total number plastic bottles used by the total non-alcoholic ready-to-drink beverage market.

When it comes to PET recycling, PET is recycled at a higher rate than other plastics. Latest statistics from national industry body PET Recycling Company (PETCO) show that 98 649 tonnes of post-consumer PET plastic bottles were recycled last year alone, equivalent to a recycling rate over 65 per cent or 6.2 million PET plastic bottles a day.


SANBWA’s members are highly committed to environmental stewardship and must not only contribute to recycling initiatives in their areas but must comply with design-for-recycling design standards.

‘Design-for-recycling is a vital consideration,’ Metcalf says ‘because an ill-conceived but well-meaning design can alter the bottle’s recycling status. For example, bottles with designs printed directly on to the plastic cannot be recycled. They may look good and you may think that doing so removes the label from the chain but the recyclers’ equipment cannot process the bottles because the ink ‘pollutes’ the recycling chain.

‘There’s a similar issue with bottles made from other substances which might be touted as recyclable. If the recycler doesn’t have the capacity to recycle an item, it will be diverted to landfill regardless of the consumers’ good intentions.

‘My advice to consumers is to visit Plastics Info (please hyperlink: ) and Petco (please hyperlink: to familiarise themselves with how to really make a difference when recycling their plastic.

‘Or, if they don’t have the time, to simply look for the SANBWA seal on the bottles of water on their retailers’ shelves. All SANBWA members’ packaging is 100 per cent recyclable,’ she says.