For recycling in South Africa to be sustainable in the long term, investment in the country’s recycling capacity is required, says Mpact Recycling MD John Hunt.
This translates into continual investment in recycling facilities, such as paper and plastic mills, which create a market for recyclable materials. “This will enable about 100 000 people who rely on constant volumes of recycled material to earn a sustainable living,” he says. These people include various personnel throughout the value chain, from the factory employees to the entrepreneurs and small business owners.
In addition, Hunt says, recycling decreases the pressure on South Africa’s strained landfill sites and helps reduce municipal expenditure and the need for major capital investment. In 2016, 1.4-million tonnes of recyclable paper and paper packaging were diverted from landfill.
While South Africa’s yearly paper recovery rate of 68.4% positions the country well ahead of the global recovery rate of 58%, this momentum can be maintained only if demand for recyclable materials continues to grow.
Hunt notes that there is a significant correlation between how much can be recycled and the type of investment that is made. “Mechanical paper and plastics recycling is economically viable only in large volumes, which requires large capital investments.” A recent example is Mpact’s liquid packaging recycling plant, which was launched in Springs in July.
The paper recycling industry has received substantial investment in recent years, with several new entrants to the market, resulting in increased demand for material.
Another boost for the industry is a robust global demand for recyclables. This type of demand for materials creates markets for everyone collecting in the industry, from the large operators to the pavement collectors, he says.
There has been massive demand for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) at “healthy prices” in the plastics recycling industry, notes Hunt, adding that there is “probably” greater demand for plastic than there is material available – a scenario that drives the collection structure and enables people to earn a living.
There has also been substantial investment in new capacity in the PET recycling industry over the past 30 years. This includes Mpact’s R350-million PET recycling facility, in Wadeville, which produces recycled PET plastic for food-grade packaging. The operation has increased the PET bottles collected for recycling by 29 000 t/y since its launch in May 2016.
He highlights that, if there is no continu- ous investment in sustainable industrial manufacturing capacity in South Africa, there will be a limit to how much people can recycle: “No one will want to wake up in the morning and collect material that cannot be sold”.
To sustain the market, Hunt notes, it is necessary for specific parties to buy the material domestically. “Some argue that there is a global market for many of the recyclable materials. While this may be true, it is a volatile market. Consider the recent decision by China to stop buying mixed-grade material. When the largest buyer in the world stops buying, the impact on price, volume and movement is massive.”
In addition, exporting material means operators need to be able to fill 250 t containers with recyclables. The collection, buying, storing and packing of the material require reasonably sized infrastructure, as well as a system to buy from smaller dealers, who ultimately buy from the collectors.
“For the entire chain of people involved in the recycling industry to survive, mills need to operate 24/7 and raw materials need to be purchased every day. This enables enterprising people to . . . collect material and get paid for it,” concludes Hunt.