File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – The latest statistics by Plastic/SA show that South Africa has a dynamic, growing and well-supported recycling industry, with more than 519 370 tons of plastic waste collected for recycling last year.

The executive director at Plastics SA, Anton Hanekom, said that despite facing major challenges in the past, the plastics industry had made important strides.

“Plastic bags manufacturers have removed fillers to produce bags that are fully recyclable. In addition, 100% certified recycled plastic material is now used to produce some carrier bags.

“This creates an end market for recycled plastic products and helps to reduce waste to landfill. By ensuring that the products we create become part of a circular economy, we create a win-win situation for the environment and for the industry, which employs 60 000 people,” Hanekom said.

Key findings of a recycling survey last year showed that:

* 46.3% of plastic waste was collected for recycling, making South Africa one of the best mechanical recyclers in the world.

* Growth in plastics recycling was 6.7% more than the previous year.

* 352 000 tons of new recycled plastic raw material were manufactured to complement virgin polymer in South Africa, a 12.2% increase year on year.

* Recycled tonnages grew 64% and virgin polymer 21% since 2009.

* The quantity of plastics recycled in South Africa last year alone saved enough oil to fuel 200 000 cars for one year, traveling 30 000 km/annum.

* Plastics recycling last year saved 246 000 tons of carbon dioxide - the equivalent of the emissions of 51 200 cars.

* South Africa has 300 active recyclers of which 20% were doing 70% of the tonnages reported.

Designing plastic packaging and other products with recyclability in mind and gaining access to good quality recyclable materials before they end up in landfill, continued to be the top priorities that drove the future strategy of the plastics industry, Plastics SA said.

“The South African Initiative to End Plastic Waste in the Environment was recently established. Representatives of the plastics and packaging industries, raw material suppliers, converters, brand owners, international fast-moving consumer goods companies, recyclers and environmental organisations are developing a workable, local plan that fits the South African context and our particular environmental, socio-political and economic realities. 

"Recyclables are a valuable resource and should be removed from the solid waste stream before reaching landfill where they become contaminated and extraction costly. 

"Similarly, stakeholders have to work together to manufacture locally, process efficiently and manage the end-of-life products so that they benefit the consumer, the industry and the planet,” Hanekom said.