Local plastics industry umbrella body Plastics SA announced last month that it had set a new sustainability goal – the ‘Zero plastics to landfill by 2030’ campaign – which will greatly influence the plastics industry’s strategic direction over the next 16 years, says company executive director Anton Hanekom.
“Increasingly scarce natural resources and expensive landfill space have pushed recycling to the top of the agenda for all the packaging streams. The plastics industry is leading the charge by setting higher-than-expected recycling targets and getting industry role-players and government to agree on a combined plan of action,” explains Hanekom.
Plastics SA’s Sustainability Council, which comprises various polymer associations, such as Petco, Polyco, the Polystyrene Packaging Council, the Southern African Vinyls Association and the SA Plastics Recycling Organisation (Sapro), major retailers and industry leaders held a strategic workshop in Cape Town earlier this year to develop a united vision and roadmap for the future management of plastic waste in South Africa, he says.
At the meeting, Sustainability Council members voluntarily committed their organisations to work towards a vision of elimi- nating all plastic waste from the country’s landfill sites by 2030, adds Hanekom.
While the plastics industry aims to use this target to drive the maximum value of plastics, it also hopes to enhance its reputation among key stakeholders.
“One of the main goals is to enhance plastics recycling in South Africa on all levels through an active and ongoing engagement with key stakeholders, such as national, provincial and local government departments, with regard to waste management legislation, regulations and the recent development of the Paper and Packaging Industry Waste Management Plan,” says Hanekom.
“Access to the solid waste stream is essential if we are to succeed in meeting our target and, therefore, we are calling for separation at source to increase the recycling rate of plastics,” he adds.
Seven key areas of improvement and development were identified at the workshop to align the plastics industry’s objectives with the targets contained in government’s National Development Plan.
These include developing effective infrastructure across the value chain, as well as the skills necessary to enable the effective use of technology and infrastructure.
It also includes ensuring ongoing research and development into new technologies and markets, as well as constructive and effective engagement and collaboration between industry and government.
Additional focus areas comprise establishing credible data sources and information sharing across the value chain and changing and improving consumer understanding and behaviour regarding recycling and waste disposal.
Addressing the shortcomings and developing each of these focus areas will be based on a set of reachable objectives in the short term (foundation setting), medium term (building and innovation) and long term (optimising), notes Hanekom.
Where recycling is not possible, industry leaders have also given their support to the use of plastics for energy recovery.
“Owing to its molecular composition, plastics are an ideal material to be recycled and a resource that is too valuable to simply be thrown away or merely incinerated. The South African plastics recycling industry has developed rapidly during the past few years . . . in terms of creating new recycling techniques and new markets for recycled products,” emphasises Hanekom.
Plastics SA has proven that plastic products can effectively be recycled many times into new products, he highlights, adding that the company is regarded as one of the world leaders when it comes to “closing the loop”, or recycling products into new products.
While the first choice will always be to recycle plastics, Plastic SA acknowledges that waste-to-energy recovery options could help save natural resources and support the objectives of saving landfill space, reducing litter, saving energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, concludes Hanekom.