South Africa’s plastic recycling statistics for 2013

Submitted by: Nadia Shah, Thursday, October 23, 2014

<p>In 2013, 20% of plastic waste produced was recovered and recycled either locally or internationally.</p>

In 2013, 20% of plastic waste produced was recovered and recycled either locally or internationally.

Plastics SA recently published performance statistics for South Africa’s plastic recycling industry in the year 2013. Since 2009, the amount of plastics manufactured in South Africa has increased by 34% to 1.4 million tonnes produced in 2013. In 2013, 20% of plastic waste produced was recovered and recycled either locally or internationally. This amounts to 280,000 tons of plastic being diverted from landfill which reflects a 4.1 % increase from the previous year’s figures. Almost 80% of plastic waste recycled in South Africa during 2013 was derived from plastic packaging which equates to 30.1% of the country’s plastic packaging, resulting in an 8.9% increase from 2012. The research was compiled by the South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO) and is conducted on behalf of Plastics SA every year.

The graph below shows the amount of plastic recycled locally and abroad as a percentage of the amount of plastic produced in South Africa over the past five years.

Impacts of the economic downturn

Anton Hanekom, Executive Director of Plastics SA, states that the industry failed to meet its target of a 40% recycling rate, because of the economic recession. “We were hoping to see more impressive increases in the latest recycling results, but the economic down-turn during 2013 had a direct impact on both the quantity and quality of plastic packaging that were available for recycling,” said Hanekom.

Hanekom further explains that the 2013 economic recession resulted in fewer recyclables entering the waste stream as consumption declined over the reporting period.

Additionally, the weakening rand-dollar exchange rate during 2013 favoured exports which resulted in a loss to the local industry as 18,920 tons of waste plastics were exported to be recycled elsewhere. As depicted in the graph below, the percentage of plastic waste recovered in South Africa and exported has increased steadily over the last five years. According to Annabé Pretorius from SAPRO, the higher quality recyclables are exported for higher prices than what South African recyclers are willing to pay.


Despite the declining economy, SAPRO’s research showed that the plastic recycling industry is steadily attracting new entrants each year. In 2011 there were 196 plastic recyclers in the country, this grew to 210 in 2012 and to 230 in 2013.


Informal employment in the plastic recycling sector has shown a progressive increase over the past five years. Formal employment has however decreased by 10.6% since 2012. Of the 4,510 formal jobs supported by the plastics recycling industry in 2013, 7.7% were contract workers. These workers are involved in the sorting of waste on a full time basis and are paid for their output rather than earning a set wage for time spent on the job. 

The survey also reported on the efforts made by recycling companies to invest in their human resources and equipment. “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.

The role of consumers

According to Plastics SA, there was a decrease in the amounts of plastic waste collected from households and businesses in 2013, and an increase in the recyclables sourced from landfills and other post-consumer sources from 59% in 2012 to 66% in 2013.

Plastics SA emphasises the role that consumers can play to assist the industry and highlights the importance of promoting consumer awareness regarding what can be recycled and where to recycle. In addition Plastics SA notes that implementing separation at source in the metropolitan areas and the collection of recyclable waste in rural areas is essential to achieving their target recycling rate of 40%. According to Pretorius the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research estimate that only 5% of South African households recycle their plastic waste. “South African consumers need to realise 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.

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