The results of Plastics SA’s latest comprehensive and complete survey for the year ending December 2015 have been released.
The umbrella organisation representing the local plastics industry has been measuring the recycling rate of plastics in South Africa for the last couple of decades. Annual updates are done to track trends in recycling.
Key findings for the 2015 plastics recycling figures are:
- South Africa mechanically recycled 292 917 tonnes of plastics in 2015 – an increase of three percent year on year from 2014.
- Over the last five years the compounded growth in plastics recycling was 5.5 percent per annum.
- Domestic production of virgin polymers totalled 1 490 000 tonnes in 2015, growing 6.4 percent from 2014. This growth would essentially be as a result of the weakening exchange rate against international currencies that lead to local procurement of plastics products rather than imports.
- A total of 310 641 tonnes of plastics were diverted from landfill in 2015. This is 1.6 percent less than in 2014, and is due to the significant reduction in the export of recyclable waste.
- The overall diversion from landfill rate was 20.8 percent, decreasing from 22.5 percent in 2014.
- Strong growth was seen in the recycling of PET, PE-LD/LLD and polystyrene, due to new capacities that came on line in 2015.
- Recycling rates of PE-HD, polypropylene and PVC declined as some of the products traditionally made from recyclate of these materials are directly linked to consumer spending and mining activities.
- Formal employment in the recycling sector increased with 3.3 percent to 6 234 permanent jobs.
- Informal employment has grown with three percent to an estimated 48 820 collectors.
- The recycling industry invested 48 percent more in capital equipment per tonne of material processed in 2015 to deal with increasing demands and improved quality requirements.
- Processing costs increased 15.4 percent year on year with the biggest contributors to cost being water, electricity and transport.
Commenting on the latest recycling figures, Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom notes that the plastics recycling industry around the world is taking strain. ‘Analysts agree that 2015 was one of the toughest years for recyclers both locally and abroad in more than a generation. This is owed to historically low oil prices that led to lower polymer prices. It, in turn, had a direct impact on the price of recycled material, which resulted in minimal growth and a slowdown in the amount of plastics we are able to divert from landfill.’
Diverting plastic waste from landfill
The plastics fraternity adopted the aspirational vision of sending Zero Plastics to Landfill by 2030 early in 2014. For the past two years, industry associations, polymer groups and recyclers have been encouraged to unite their efforts in order to achieve this objective.
Despite their conscious efforts to increase the recycling rate and develop new end markets for recycled material, just over 20 percent of all the plastics that were manufactured were successfully diverted from landfill during 2015.
‘South Africa has a thriving recycling industry that creates jobs for thousands of people. Yet, it is frustrating to see that there is still not an established recycling culture in our country. We still see too much plastics ending up in landfill that could have been recycled many times over into various new products,’ adds Hanekom.