Industry stakeholders’ and recycling companies’ promotion of separation-at-source recycling initiatives and investment in the improvement of washing and drying facilities have contributed to the growth in plastic recycling.
The amount of plastics being recycled in South Africa grew by 1.6% – from 241 853 t in 2010 to 245 969 t in the 2011 financial year – according to industry association Plastics SA’s latest survey.
The industry body attributed the bulk of the growth in recycling volumes to improved post-consumer recycling, with more plastic being collected directly from households and landfills than in previous years.
“Almost 70% of all recyclables were sourced from post-consumer sources versus the 46.8% recorded in 2010, says executive director Anton Hanekom.
The plastics industry has collectively been promoting post-consumer collection initiatives, with a focus on collecting waste directly from households rather than landfills, which Hanekom describes as “an unhygienic risk” and an expensive process, owing to cost increases when a material needs to be cleaned before it can be recycled.
He highlights national on-site waste management company WastePlan and Johannesburg-based waste management entity Pikitup, which both have ongoing collection-at-source initiatives.
Pikitup launched the second phase of its separation-at-source project in October last year. The project is aimed at encouraging residents to recycle household waste and promoting job creation through facilitating the exchange of money for recyclable waste, in October last year.
The project is already operating in Johan- nesburg’s Waterval area, which includes Northcliff, Cresta, Westcliff and Fairlands.
Meanwhile, WastePlan, the largest company of its kind in the Western Cape and the second-largest in South Africa, specialises in recycling and reducing landfill waste. WastePlan currently services more than 120 clients in the Western Cape and Gauteng. It plans to start managing waste in KwaZulu-Natal soon.
With the assistance of these types of waste management service providers, some munici- palities have started implementing separation- at-source initiatives, educating the public about waste collection and recycling, and urging people to separate waste into two bags – a black bag for wet waste, and a white, translucent bag for recyclables, including paper, glass, cans and all types of plastic.
Once the municipality has collected the bags, it separates the white bags from the black bags and transports the ‘dry waste’ to a material recovery facility where it is sorted into the various types of recyclable materials, after which the material is baled, or granulated and sold to a buyer who will recycle the material.
Polystyrene Packaging Council director Adri Spangenberg tells Engineering News that the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality has already started separation-at-source initiatives for 120 000 houses, adding that Durban’s eThekwini metropolitan municipality and the City of Tshwane metropolitan municipality have followed suit, servicing 60 000 houses and 20 000 houses respectively.
“Even the Knysna municipality, in the Western Cape, has started a separation-at-source initiative. Slowly, but surely, consumers are being educated about waste separation and municipalities are starting to recognise what needs to be done,” says Spangenberg.
The Waste Act
Engineering News reported in March last year that new standards for waste collection were gazetted for comment to provide the necessary levels of waste management service delivery for all citizens.
This was in line with the National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS), promulgated in 2011, as a legislative requirement of the National Environmental Management Waste Act to achieve the objectives of the Act.
The new standards stipulate more stringent requirements for landfills, including limiting the amount of waste that arrives at landfill sites. Further, all relevant waste management facili- ties are required to have a licence to operate and to appoint a waste management officer, who will be legally responsible for the indivi- dual entity’s compliance with the Waste Act.
With this in mind, government has also recognised that municipal service delivery, in terms of domestic household waste collection and disposal, has significant room for improvement.
As a result, it has started several interventions at local government level, including financing various initiatives that involve training and capacity building. This is done in collaboration with industry bodies, such as the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa, which offers accredited basic waste management training courses.
Plastics SA sustainability director Douw Steyn believes that, together with awareness campaigns and better waste collection systems being put in place, the statutes of the Waste Act have resulted in the significant growth of post-consumer recycling.
“The new legislation is making municipalities more aware of recycling, and holds them responsible for waste separation,” says Steyn.
Plastics SA is also taking responsibility to reduce plastic waste and find ways to make plastic more lightweight, thinner and stronger, instead of promoting a general reduction in plastics consumption.
“We are looking at recycling as a way of creating a new product out of waste plastic. One of the challenges is to look at the design of a product,” says Steyn.
Hanekom adds that Plastics SA is con- ducting research on product design and labelling, finding ways to make it easy for the consumer to recognise a product and know if it can be recycled.
“Using many different materials on one product will impact the recyclability of a product. We need to keep this in mind when we design a product to make it easier to recycle.”
This is why collection- and separation-at-source initiatives are important, says Hanekom.
He adds, however, that getting municipalities to recognise the benefit and value of implementing responsible waste management initiatives is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry.
“Not all municipalities recognise the bene- fit – they see it rather as a cost.”
South Africa will eventually run out of landfill space, to which separation-at-source initiatives offer a viable solution that also creates jobs.
Steyn points out that waste reduction initia- tives bear significant opportunity for entrepreneurs. “As soon as there is monetary value in something, it leads to action. There are also end-markets now, especially in polyethylene terephthalate and polyolefins,” he notes.
As part of the Waste Act and the NWMS, government requested industries to draft a waste management plan addressing issues particular to their sectors.
Drafted by the Packaging Council of South Africa and affiliated plastics groups, the packaging sector’s waste management plan was submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in 2012.
However, efforts to approve and implement this plan have been delayed as a result of challenges facing the tyre industry in regard to its waste management plan, which tied up the DEA’s resources last year.
Hanekom says he hopes to hear from government soon in response to the packaging industry’s waste management plan.
Meanwhile, the various sectors within the plastics industry are already moving ahead to meet the individual recycling targets stipulated in the plan.