plastic bottles

Photo: mali maeder / pexels

Plastics South Africa: Here’s how much plastic was recycled in 2018

There is a lot of work to be done but South Africa is slowly turning the tide against plastic pollution.

plastic bottles

Photo: mali maeder / pexels

Plastics South Africa has published its recycling survey with details of the amount of plastic that was converted into reusable material in 2018.

How much plastic did South Africa recycle in 2018?

The topic of plastic pollution has been at the centre of environmental discourse for many years. South Afric has just gotten into the habit of being conscious of non-biodegradable plastic littering.

There are enough images and videos of the negative effects plastic has had on our environment and how it has endangered sea animals.

However, according to Plastics SA, South Africa is doing a whole lot better at converting plastic into reusable materials than more developed nations.

“Many of the First World countries are desperate to find solutions for their growing waste problems after China and other Asian countries closed their borders for waste imports. South Africa is in a slightly better position in that the bulk of the locally collected waste was, and still is, locally recycled into raw materials,” the recycling survey noted.

In 2018, South Africa recycled a total of 352 000 tons of plastic into raw material. Compared to Europe’s 31.1%, South Africa leads the line with a recycling rate of 46.3%.

Although, the survey reported some concerns with regards to the influx of plastic into our environment. 2018 saw a total of 1.876-million tons of polymer converted into plastic, which is a 4.9% increase from 2017.

Furthermore, there is still an estimated 1.122-million tons of recyclable material in our waste stream, or which 603 114 tons has not been recovered due to:

  • no formal waste collection
  • logistic challenges in rural and outlying areas; and
  • litter and poorly-managed waste

South Africa did, however, achieve a recovery rate of 46.3%, with 519 372 tons of plastics recovered from the waste stream.

plastics south africa
Photo: Plastics South Africa

Recycled plastic repurposed into these areas

The reuse of recyclable material holds a lot of potential in addressing the problems South Africa currently faces. For instance, the recycling sector sustained a total of 7 892 jobs in 2018. It is further estimated that 58 470 workers received an income through the recycling supply chain. According to Plastics SA, this is 6 000 more than in 2017.

“Through the procurement of recyclables, an estimated R2 267 million was injected into the economy at primary sourcing level – material bought from waste-pickers, collectors and waste management companies,” the survey added.

This is where 2018’s recycling efforts went:

  • Energy recovery: 0.2%
  • Reuse: Uknown
  • Exported to be converted into raw materials elsewhere: 2.2%
  • Procured by local recyclers for conversion to raw materials: 88%

Plastics South Africa: Measures required to increase recycling efforts

While there are a few points to smile about, there is still a lot of work to do in addressing the issue of plastic pollution in South Africa.

Sure, South Africa has taken the lead globally in mechanical recycling but according to the survey, this is not enough.

“Plastics need to be collected and removed from the environment. Infrastructure and waste management processes need to be in place that will handle recyclable and non-recyclable waste so that the 34% of concerned citizens who currently have no access to waste management services, can also participate,” it says.

More needs to be done in removing contaminants in our waste stream with strengthened collaboration between civic groups, businesses and government.

“Industry, government and society need to collaborate in the war against waste. It is not acceptable that plastics products are blamed for a problem created by society’s disregard for litter and waste in general.”