Plastics SA, the umbrella body representing the entire South African plastics industry, has released the plastics recycling figures for the year ending December 2019. The detailed survey of the country’s plastics recycling industry is conducted annually by the independent consultant Annabé Pretorius of Plastix 911. According to this report, 503,600 tons of plastics waste was collected for recycling in 2019. Of this, more than half (362,800 tons) was packaging – giving South Africa an input recycling rate of 45.7 %.
South Africa’s plastics industry continues to be dominated by the packaging industry, which accounts for 49% of the local market. It is therefore encouraging to see the growing number of brand owners who are committed to including recycled content in their packaging. Thanks to this growing end-market, 119,000 tons of recycled plastics were used in 2019 to manufacture new rigid and flexible packaging items. Recycled flexible packaging was the largest market for recyclate, with 24% of all recycled materials finding a market in shopping bags, refuse bags and general flexible packaging.
The basic economic principle of supply and demand will drive recycling rates upwards when potential buyers (converters, brand owners and retailers) commit to using recycled plastics. Recyclers have proven that recycled plastics can be (and are being) used in food packaging, containers, bottles, closures, jars and caps. As soon as the demand for high-quality recyclate picks up, recyclers can invest in sorting and recycling capabilities. The increased demand will spiral down the complete value chain with benefits to all, ultimately resulting in less plastic in the environment and higher recycling rates.
The recycling of plastic made a direct contribution to South Africa’s GDP of 2.3% and an 18.5% contribution to the Manufacturing GDP in 2019. R2,065 billion was injected into the informal sector through the purchasing of recyclable plastics waste. 58,750 income opportunities were created – which include waste pickers and employees of the smaller entrepreneurial collectors.
More than 70% of all the recyclable plastic collected in 2019 came from landfill and other post-consumer sources. Thanks to these successful collection and recycling operations, 2.2% less plastic waste ended up in landfill.
However, these valuable materials are extracted at a high cost to the recyclers who have to wash the contaminated material, and to the waste pickers themselves who put their lives and health at risk. Plastics SA concludes that South Africa needs to follow the example of other developed countries where the necessary infrastructure has been put in place to get the recyclables out of the waste stream as early as possible.