Market News

 June 11, 2013
South Africa steps up Plastic Waste Recycling

 Cape Town - More than 245 000 tons of plastic waste were recycled in South Africa in 2011 and the figure for last year was roughly the same.

This equates to 18.9 percent of all plastic produced in the country and includes just under 30 percent of all plastic packaging, says the chairperson of the SA Plastics Recycling Organisation Douglas Greig.

He told the African Marine Debris summit held at the SA National Biodiversity Institute at Kirstenbosch last week this amount of plastic was equivalent to 5 billion 2-litre milk bottles that would stretch 32 times around the Earth.

Greig also pointed out that every ton of plastic that was recycled saved 5.7m3 of landfill space, and this meant in 2011 about 1.4 million cubic metres of space was saved -- equal to about 40 percent of the capacity of Cape Town Stadium.

"Globally, recycling is huge; we definitely need to recycle. Europe is a lot better at it than us but we're getting there. But we need to get there faster."

Recycling had created about 5 000 formal jobs and an estimated 40 000 informal jobs, Greig pointed out.

Uses for recycled plastic include energy production through incineration and reconverting plastic into "eco-diesel". Greig said this was being done successfully overseas "and I'm sure it's coming (to South Africa)".

There were a few local pilot plants where these options were being tested. "None is actually producing commercially yet, but it looks like it could be viable."

Responding to a question by a Nigerian delegate, he agreed there were some "problem" products that could not be recycled, such as those made of multi-layer plastics.

"These would be ideal for incineration and for turning into diesel, but we just don't have the waste-to-energy plants and waste-to-diesel facilities."

Cheri Scholtz of the Petco plastic recycling organisation said PET bottles -- the most common container in South Africa's soft drink market -- constituted a big, but unknown, proportion of the waste stream.

"But PET bottles are not trash. They have value as a recyclable material and we need to catch and re-use them before they get into the landfills."

In 2005, when Petco was started with a voluntary levy, about 16 percent of post-user PET bottles were collected and recycled and by last year this had jumped to 45 percent, amounting to 50 280 tons. This year's target was 57 731 tons. - Cape Argus