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South African PET recycling rates amongst the highest in the world

Plastics SA has released the latest recycling statistics and the results show steady and solid improvement by South African recyclers. At the moment, the country recycles 15% more than most European countries. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles are some of the most-recycled items in SA. 

In the last year alone, South Africa recycled around 519 400 tonnes of plastic. This gives us an input-recycling rate of 46.3% for all plastics. Just over 74 000 tonnes of this volume were PET beverage bottles. Over the past five years, PET recycling has steadily been increasing. These recycling volumes by waste management and plastics industries are expected to reach 70% by 2022.

Plastics manufacturers and beverage producers are working with the government and waste management companies to improve the recycling rates of plastic bottles. Most PET bottles collected for recycling were sourced from landfills in and around major cities and towns. If collection and recycling in small towns and remote communities improve, it would boost PET recycling statistics even more.

PET recycling shows continued improvement

Over the past few years, the recycling rates for PET bottles have shown continued improvement. SA currently recycles around 67% of all plastic PET bottles that are produced – an increase from 55% in 2016. This places South Africa ahead of international standards. It also makes the country a world leader in recycling.

A number of factors are responsible for this improvement. Firstly, South African consumers are becoming more and more aware of responsible waste disposal practices and the importance of recycling. Secondly, more restaurants and businesses are starting to set recycling initiatives in place. Households and workplace recycling practices are also becoming more common.

Thirdly, the South African government is slowly updating waste management frameworks and regulations for recyclable waste. As an example, the City of Johannesburg set in place mandatory recycling in households in 2018. This encourages proper separation of recyclable household waste at source (organic waste and non-recyclable refuse).

An ever-growing volume of waste

South Africa (and the rest of Africa) is producing more waste every year. Experts predict that the volume of waste generated in Africa will double by 2025. This ever-growing volume of refuse means that there is more to recycle, which in turn drives up recyclable waste volumes year-on-year.

Industry and government are making substantial investments into post-consumer recycled PET products (called rPET). Most of this rPET is used to manufacture new beverage bottles. A large portion of rPET goes into the production of plastic sheeting for trays and punnets – used as packaging and in the food industry. PET can also be used in food-contact applications without the risk of contaminating food and beverages.

SA is on the right track when it comes to recycling plastics. This steady improvement in PET recycling statistics is expected to continue. “Recyclables are a valuable resource. They should be removed from the solid waste stream before they reach a landfill,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom. 

“All stakeholders, including manufacturers, brand owners, producers, consumers, waste management companies and recyclers – must work together to make plastics the material of choice, the material to manufacture locally. To process it efficiently and to manage the end-of-life products in the most efficient manner that will benefit the consumer, the industry as well as the planet,” says Hanekom.

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Written by Riana Wiechers

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