Johannesburg, September 3, 2014.In honour of Clean-Up and Recycle SA week*, Plastics|SA has just released the nation’s latest plastic recycling results for the year 2013.
According to the figures,280 000 tons of plastic (20.0 % of all plastics manufactured in South Africa) were diverted from landfill and recycled during 2013. This equates to a 4.1 % increase from the previous year’s figures. Of this, 220 400 tons were plastic packaging(30.1 % of all plastics packaging) resulting in a year on year increase of 8.9 %.
“We were hoping to see more impressive increases in the latest recycling results, but the economic down-turn in the economyduring 2013 had a direct impact on both the quantity and quality of plastic packaging that were available for recycling,” says Anton Hanekom, Executive Director of Plastics|SA – the mouthpiece of the South African Plastics industry.
According to Hanekom, both recyclers and converters agreed that shoppers spent less money on consumer items during the reporting period, resulting infewer recyclables enteringthe waste stream. At the same time, the exchange rate favoured exports, seeing a total amount of 18 920 tons of waste plastics exported during 2013 to be recycled elsewhere, instead of being used to the advantage of the local industry and economy.
Fig. 1: Tonnages of plastics recycled and diverted from landfill in South Africa for the last three years
SOURCES OF PLASTICS WASTE
Figure 2: Source of recyclable waste in South Africa for the last three years
The formal employment in plastics recycling decreased by 10.6 % to 4 510 formal jobs since 2012. Of these, only 7.7 % were contract workers (i.e. workerswho were full time involved in the sorting of incoming materials for the recyclers, normally on site. These workers are paid for their output rather than for the time spent on the job).
At the same time, approximately 43 500 informal jobs were createdin the collection industry. These collectors collect all recyclable materials and are not only limited to plastics. (The figures are based on 60 kg of plastics waste handled per person per day and 200 good collection days per annum.)
“We are glad to have seen that recycling and sorting companies invested in training and on-the-job skills enhancement to improve the productivity of their labour forces, as well as invested in having new and more efficient equipment installed at their premises,” Hanekom commented. As a result, there was a 15 % increase in theformal recycling industry in the amount oftonnages processed per employee in the last year.
Figure 2: Formal employment and indirect employment in the plastics recycling industry in 2013
The South African plastics industry recently announced its Zero Plastics to Landfill by 2013 objective, and is engaging with all levels of government to achieve this target. Looking at the latest figures of the total tonnages of plastics that were effectively diverted from landfill, however, it is clear that we still have a long way to go.
The European plastics industry has stated that the maximum economic recycling rate for plastics is about 35%. South Africa, however, has a number of things in its favour that will allow us to exceed that number. Not only do we have the availability of cheaper sorters, we also have a dynamic and inventive recycling industry that can hold its own and develop its own end markets for recycled materials. One example is the recycling of thin films, where South Africa is far ahead of our European counterparts. Similarly, we are also developing a stronger non-packaging recycling industry for the polyolefins.
South Africa should be able to reach a 40% mechanical recycling rate if the following provisions are in place:
“The South African consumers need to realize that they have an important role to play by separating their domestic waste into recyclables and non-recyclables at home (i.e. at source). Higher recycling rates influence and benefit all levels of society. It creates more jobs, it results in a cleaner country and it contributes to a lesser carbon footprint,”concludes Hanekom.