Plastics SA releases 2015 plastics recycling figures

Mechanical recycling of plastics in South Africa in 2015 increased three percent, compared to 2014. Plastics SA’s latest survey on recycling in South Africa indicates a three percent increase in mechanically recycled plastics in 2015, when compared to 2014.

Its results for recycling in the year ending December 2015 also indicates:

Read the full report here.

Lack of quality materials

According to the latest figures, the lack of a consistent incoming stream of recyclables was the single biggest challenge plastics recyclers had to face last year. A large quantity of the materials that were made available for recycling, was recovered by waste pickers off landfill sites, where they were contaminated and therefore of very poor quality.

In the northern province, where the demand for recyclable materials exceeds supply, up to 40 percent of materials had to be scrapped or rejected due to impurities. According to Hanekom, this clearly highlights the need for an effective separation-at-source infrastructure to be implemented throughout the country.

Incineration, or energy recovery, is popular for large volumes of mixed waste in developed countries. Solid municipal waste can be used, no sorting and very little handling in general is required. Pyrolysis is slowly developing in South Africa to access the fuel value of the discarded products. Trial plants are using tyres as well as plastics to generate crude oil, diesel, gas and carbon black.

‘Official statistics are hard to come by as the plants that do exist, are in most cases only experimental. Although we strongly advocate that plastics be recycled in order to extract the maximum value out of plastic products, there are certain “difficult-to-recycle” plastics, mixed materials and multi-layer packaging films that are suitable for pyrolysis or incineration.’

Support a growing recycling industry

Recycling is a manufacturing process that needs to make money to be sustainable and economically viable. However, recyclers have to operate in an increasingly difficult business environment where they have to face high operating costs, tight margins and day-to-day challenges. These include load shedding, escalating electricity costs, water shortages, and a general downturn in the economy.

‘Recycling is a very cyclical, commodity-based business. However, there seems to be a public perception and expectation that the recycling industry needs to save the planet, extend the supply of natural resources, provide cheaper raw materials, create sustainable jobs, fix the image of plastics littering, save landfill space, and rid the country of its visible litter problem. These things are all expected at no cost to anyone. This is a very important industry that sustained close to 55 000 jobs last year. It needs all the support it can get to continue growing and developing into a priority sector,’ Hanekom urges.

Improving the plastics recycling rate

Like all manufacturing processes, challenges in the recycling industry have to be understood and managed, and opportunities need to be identified and utilised. According to the Plastics SA report, the following elements are needed to grow the country’s recycling figures over the next few years to come:

‘The plastics recycling industry has achieved outstanding results in the face of many obstacles and challenges,’ comments Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom. ‘However, we need to use these challenges to help us adapt to changing market needs and expectations. With the help of brand owners and retailers, we will be able to take plastics recycling to a totally new level. Especially those companies willing to get actively involved and put pressure on converters to design products that are recyclable and contain a percentage of recycled material.’

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