Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling company Petco is confident of reaching its target of recycling 50% of South Africa’s post-consumer PET in 2015, having grown recycling targets from 16% to 42% since the company’s establishment in 2004.
In the last seven years, the number of post-consumer PET bottles being recycled has grown from 328-million bottles in the first year, an equivalent of 9 840 t, to 1.4-billion bottles in 2011, which is equivalent to 42 562 t.
Since its inception, Petco has established more than 430 plastic recovery stations throughout South Africa. As an industry stakeholder, it has created about 26 000 income opportunities in its endeavour to promote and improve the waste management and recycling of post-consumer PET products on behalf of all stakeholders in the South African PET industry.
Petco reports that almost all of the post-consumer PET bottles collected in South Africa are recycled into a local end-use, unlike many other countries, which tend to export the bottles to China.
In South Africa, discarded PET bottles are collected, baled and delivered to a recycling plant where they are colour sorted, washed, granulated, rewashed, cut into long thin strips of plastic (extruded) and cut into pellets, before being recycled into a variety of products.
PET is mainly used to produce soft drink and water bottles, but is also used to produce plastic jars, containers, trays and clamshell packages. As a polymer manufactured from oil-based raw material, PET is a tough, resilient and 100% recyclable material.
Recycled PET, or rPET, is used as feedstock for the manufacture of a number of items, including fibre for polyester carpeting, shopping bags, ceiling insulation and geotextiles; fabric for T-shirts, underwear, athletic shoes, luggage, upholstery and sweaters; fibrefill for sleeping bags and winter coats; industrial strapping, sheet and film; automotive parts, such as luggage racks, headliners, fuse boxes, bumpers, grilles and door panels; and new PET containers for both food and nonfood products.
South Africa has well-established markets for rPET, with demand currently exceeding supply. Future end-use will include its return to bottle manufacturers for reuse. The key challenge Petco faces, however, is to collect post-consumer PET before it gets to landfill.
The largest end-use market for post-consumer PET bottles in South Africa is currently the polyester staple fibre, or bottle-to-fibre, market; however, the market is slowly reaching saturation, says Petco.
Further, there is installed capacity for converting PET bottles to food-grade resin in the country, with a possible recycled content of up to 25%.
Food-grade plastic is used in food packaging, as it is purer than the plastic used for nonfood packaging. It does not contain dye or certain recycled plastic that is deemed harmful to humans.
Uptake in this sector has been relatively slow but is improving with the recent release onto the market of detergents, sandwich packets and juice bottles with recycled content, says Petco.
The company is working with retailers and brand owners to increase the demand for PET recyclate. There are also approved technologies in place for post-consumer PET bottles to be recycled into new bottles – a process called bottle-to-bottle recycling.
Petco believes this is where the future growth in South Africa will be. The companyis currently spearheading a project in collaboration with the South African Bureau of Standards to develop standards for the use of rPET plastic content in food-grade packaging.