Plastics SA releases its latest plastic recycling statistics for 2012

Submitted by: Kathryn Kasavel, Friday, November 8, 2013

<p>Plastic material baled for recycling (Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_16323084_baled-plastic-bags-for-recycling.html'>bogdanwanko / 123RF Stock Photo</a>)</p>

Plastic material baled for recycling (Image credit: bogdanwanko / 123RF Stock Photo)

Plastics SA has released its latest plastic recycling statistics for South Africa for the 2012 year. A total of 268,548 tonnes of plastic was recycled in 2012, which was a 9.3% increase of 22,852 tonnes from the previous year. Anton Hanekom, Executive Director of Plastics SA highlights that 20.7% of all plastics manufactured in 2012 were diverted from landfills and that the plastics recycling rate had increased from 18.9% in 2011 to 19.6% in 2012, compared to international standards of 26.3%. Hanekom adds, “We are very excited and motivated by these figures, as they show that the local plastics industry is robust and healthy despite worldwide economic pressures”. The amount of plastic exported also increased by 4,986 tonnes which is almost a 50% increase from 2011. This figure is taken into account when assessing the percentage of plastic waste that is diverted from landfills. The 2012 statistics form part of an update to a comprehensive Plastics Recycling Survey administered by Plastics SA in 2009.

Hanekom states that the plastics industry in South Africa has a combined turnover of R50 billion, employing over 60,000 people and that in 2012 close to 1,370 million tonnes of virgin polymer was consumed which is an increase of 5.4% from 2011. “It therefore stands to reason that a major focus for us is ensuring that plastics are properly disposed of and recycled and that a viable recycling sector is established and supported,” explains Hanekom.

Paper and Packaging Industry Waste Management Plan

The South African plastics industry, together with other packaging role players submitted a Paper and Packaging Industry Waste Management Plan to the Department of Environmental Affairs in 2011. Hanekom states that this plan is aimed at reducing the visible plastic waste in the environment and adds “although the plan is not approved as yet, industry is implementing its elements and it is starting to bear fruit”.

Plastic packaging recycling and recovery rates

A total of 647,244 tonnes of plastic packaging waste was produced in the 2012 year and a recovery rate of 33.5% achieved, which is slightly higher than the target of 31.9% set in the Paper and Packaging Industry Waste Management Plan. Recovery refers to the total amount of plastic packaging that was diverted from landfill. 204,400 tonnes of plastic packaging waste was recycled locally in 2012 which is an increase of 8.5% from 2011. On the export side, plastic packaging waste exports increased by 51% from 2011 (8,294 tonnes in 2011 to 12,532 tonnes in 2012). Exported plastic packaging figures are included in the total amount of plastic packaging waste that was diverted from landfill in 2012, which totalled 219,932 tonnes.

The 2012 update of the Plastics Recycling Survey found that for the first time there is a negative growth rate in plastic packaging not recycled where the amount of packaging sent to landfills in 2012 was 0.6% less than 2011. This reduction of plastic packaging waste may be due to the development of separation at source projects in some of the major metropolitan areas.  Hanekom also points out that “If one million families each add one 1 litre yogurt tub every second week to their recyclable waste, the plastics packaging in the waste stream will start decreasing”.

Over 3,000 informal jobs in the plastics recycling industry created in 2012

According to the 2012 update of the Plastics Recycling Survey, 3,150 additional informal jobs were created in 2012 for collectors of recycling material bringing the total number of informal jobs in the plastics recycling industry to 44,100. Although these informal collectors don’t only collect plastic materials, it is estimated that each collector handles an average of 60kg of plastic waste a day and has approximately 200 good days of collection per year, adds Hanekom.  On the formal employment side however, jobs in the plastics recycling industry decreased by 0.3% from 2011.  8.4% of these workers are contract workers who sort the materials coming in to the recyclers on a full time basis usually on site. These workers are paid for their output rather than the amount of time spent sorting.

Workers sorting recyclable material (Source: Plastics SA)

Processing costs increased by 36% for plastic recyclers

According to the survey, plastic recycling operations have experienced increases of 36.5% in processing costs from 2011 whilst the prices that the bulk of recyclers are selling plastic material at have only increased by 2% in 2012. Processing costs include water, electricity, wages, transport, repairs and maintenance. Despite increases in electricity in 2012, plastic recycling operators were able to minimise their costs related to electricity through the implementation of energy efficiency and saving strategies.  The cost of financing also increased by 389% in 2012 as accessing incentives and grants is still a challenge for recycling and recyclers who are thus forced to go through the usual financial channels to finance their investments.

Way Forward

On the way forward, Hanekom states that “Recyclers are used to customers contacting them for material at a specific price.  They are not used to hard selling their products or its advantages and this will need to change if they are to make the most of the positive environment that is encouraging more players to enter the market”. Hanekom also says that the public, brand owners and stakeholders don’t fully grasp the magnitude of the recycling industry in South Africa and thus “the plastics industry will have to work together as one if it is to convince government, retail and the public that we mean business with recycling and are professional and credible in what we recycle.” Hanekom also states that alternative recycling methods such as energy from waste and liquid fuels can be researched and are “exciting and viable initiatives that will help us to grow the recycling rates to levels where zero plastic waste to landfill can become a reality”.

Hanekom adds that that the plastics industry in South Africa will be able to reach a 40% recycling rate if the following factors are met:

  • Waste is separated at source at all large municipalities
  • Recyclers advertise themselves which leads to  higher industry standards
  • Energy costs of recycling are clearly stated
  • Prices of recyclate are  based on the demand and quality of the material
  • Brand owners state what recycled content is being used
  • A system is developed for collection of waste in outlying rural areas
  • Similar organisations within the plastics industry amalgamate 

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Kathryn Kasavel