OPINION: Glass production and local recycling crumbling in the wake of alcohol ban
JOHANNESBURG - Across the country, thousands of small businesses and glass recycling collectors are on their knees, as the ban on alcohol sales has impacted those companies and individuals involved in the production and recycling of glass packaging.
Many small-scale entrepreneurs, buy-back centres and cullet glass vendors have been hit hard as a result of the lack of trade, brought about by the limited sales of products in glass packaging. Many of these small businesses operated by historically disadvantaged individuals, have over the past 14 years benefitted from support and training in building their recycling operations from the ground up, but they are now faced with near certain closure as it has become impossible for them to sell their recyclable glass.
South African glass manufacturers, unable to produce and sell alcoholic beverage bottles, are struggling immensely themselves and cannot receive or buy recyclable cullet, which is the small glass fragments used to manufacture new glass from recycled glass.
This in turn has a horrific impact on the entire recycling supply chain since larger entrepreneurs cannot afford to collect or buy glass from buy back centres, while buy back centres are unwilling to purchase glass from the ‘man on the street’ - street collectors and so-called waste pickers. In theory, recycling is permitted at an operating capacity of 50 percent during Level 4 of the South African lockdown, but in reality, these collectors are unable to make any income at this point.
In addition, entrepreneurs are unable to fund the collection of communities’ glass recycling from recycling banks, leading to excess glass potentially building up and collection points not being regularly serviced in our communities.
The sad reality is that the majority of glass collectors and small recycling businesses will fall through the cracks as they are not able to claim grants including Unemployment Insurance Fund, as they very much fall into the informal sector. The poorest of the poor in our communities, facing the prospect of a consistently empty stomach, are now coping near insurmountable odds in their daily lives. These dedicated workers, often the unsung heroes in our war on waste and climate change, are starving.
The local glass recycling and glass production industries are on the brink of collapse. Despite this, in a generous move, glass manufacturers, Consol and Isanti Glass, together with The Glass Recycling Company, jointly funded R1.8 million in payouts to cullet vendors during April and May in order to assist these small businesses, even as they cannot buy their cullet. However, these measures are simply not sustainable any longer.
While we appreciate and are grateful for the government’s swift response to Covid-19 and acknowledge the possible merits of somewhat limiting alcohol sales, realistically the dire consequences of this alcohol sales ban for a broad segment of the manufacturing and recycling sector has become catastrophic and should this restriction not be lifted, it will result in nothing short of the downfall of the glass manufacturing industry and upstream and downstream supply chains, in the South African market.
Shabeer Jhetam is the chief executive of The Glass Recycling Company.