Apilot programme to recycle the coloured or black contaminated polystyrene used in food packaging applications, including fast-food trays, takeaway cups and trays used to package meat and fresh fruit, has been launched in Pretoria through a joint venture (JV) involving Emalahleni- based construction company GC Con- struction (GCC), nonprofit organisa- tion Mobile Educational and Training Trust (METT) and the University of Pretoria’s Department of Construction Economics.
Clear, colourless or white polystyrene has always had the highest recycling value, with waste management and recycling companies preferring to collect and recycle unpigmented containers.
The pilot project, however, has found a viable end-market for contaminated coloured and black polystyrene trays in the building industry, which is, so far, proving successful.
The project was initiated through GCC and METT’s development of a global patented chemical mixture that is used with recycled scrap polystyrene to create a solid wall system for use in the construction industry.
GCC ultimately plans to contribute to the construction of one-million houses in Africa using the patented chemical mixture, which is moulded into panels. There is, however, no projected date of completion, but GCC and METT director Hennie Snyman is confident in the product and the speed at which these houses will be constructed.
Snyman confirms that plans are already under way to issue four construction licences to designated African countries that could not be named at the time of publication.
GCC and METT are planning to open three factories in each of South Africa’s nine provinces that will use the patented dry mix, which is produced at an already established flagship factory, in Pretoria, to manufacture the wall panels and other construction materials that can be moulded from the mixture.
The flagship factory became fully operational in October last year and has had to move to larger premises in Pretoria because of the speed at which the project is developing.
The factory currently houses a 375 ℓ mixer, which can make up to 90 wall panels a day. Snyman tells Engineering News that two 5 000 ℓ mixers will be installed early this year. Each 1 200 cm × 500 cm panel is made from 12 kg of polystyrene, waste and chemicals.
In collaboration with the JV, the Poly- styrene Packaging Council(PSPC) has installed two balers at separate waste management sites in Gauteng, namely national on-site waste management company WastePlan, in Pretoria, and Absa Capital, in Sandton, which collects polystyrene waste from its own cafeteria and those in surrounding buildings to be baled and shipped for recycling.
The council has also installed a granulator at independent multiproduct recycling company Remade Recycling, which will supply Snyman and his team with granu- lated polystyrene that it sources from factories and large retailers.
The PSPC has teamed up with waste management machinery manufacturer Akura to supply Akupak machines and auxiliary equipment, which include baling presses for the recycling industry, static compactors for supermarkets and retail shopping malls, as well as complete municipal waste transfer stations.
“As soon as GCC needs material, we have to be ready to supply,” says PSPC director Adri Spangenberg.
“We won’t be going countrywide with this project anytime soon, but the process will proceed quicker than we think. When we start opening the [other] factories, supply will not just come from Pretoria,” she adds.
However, to keep the intellectual property safe, the patented dry chemical mixture will be mixed and packaged in Pretoria and sent to the various factories across the country.
“It’s going to be a franchise-based job- creation project controlled by GCC and METT, which hold the intellectual property of the product,” adds Snyman, who facilitated the roll-out of the pilot project.
The companies will host a workshop in Pretoria next month, to which delegates from African universities, who are expected to help roll out the project across the continent, will be invited.
Spangenberg tells Engineering News that continental roll-out will happen as soon as licences are issued to interested parties.
“Once the licences and relevant paperwork are in place, and the relevant machinery installed, there is no reason why factories would not be able to open up immediately,” she says.
Meanwhile, data and statistics from the installed balers and granulator will be gathered this year and used to generate business plans for potential waste management companies.
The PSPC will, therefore, be able to use that information to help new companies and entrepreneurs who would like to start collecting polystyrene to generate income.
“We will be able to assist them with a business plan so they know what kind of machinery they need and what volumes they need to consider. As the PSPC, we will support them, assist with marketing and ensure that they get the materials for their machines,” says Spangenberg.
GCC and METT’s patented dry chemical mixture was subjected to a series of tests, from fire and water-penetration tests to load-bearing, impact and stress tests, at the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) late last year, with unprecedented success.
“This was the first time in history that polystyrene had sustained heat at 1 800 ºC,” says Snyman.
After a two-hour fire test, using 15 000 ℓ of diesel, the tested panel remained intact. Following the completion of the test, the outer temperature of the polystyrene waste and chemical panel had dropped 21 ºC within two hours of being in a furnace.
In mid-November last year, GCC and METT had its sixth meeting with the SABS and government representatives to discuss the product.
Subsequently, Snyman told industry stakeholders and members of the media that government had a clear vision of how valuable [plastic] waste was and what could be done with it.
GCC and METT have already enlisted the help of relevant university faculties across South Africa, including chemical and civil engineering faculties, as well as construction and architecture faculties, which will be prioritising research that Snyman says will “take [low-cost housing] to a level where it has never been before”.
With the help of international services, trading and distribution group Bidvest, GCC and METT have already facilitated the construction of clinics and will soon publicise details about other projects expected to get under way.
Moreover, the companies are in talks with a major global fast-moving consumer-goods company about a R1.5-billion contract that will lead to the construction of 10 000 new spaza shops across South Africa.
“We are going to need polystyrene – a lot of it – and the best thing about it is that we need real rubbish – the dirtier, the better,” says Snyman.
Meanwhile, the JV companies have also designed a pallet, made out of the patented dry mix material, to transport food and medi- cine, owing to legislation that is also effective in Europe, which no longer permits the use of wooden pallets for logistics purposes.
“There is a lot of interest in the pallet product, and companies are also showing an interest in using the patented material for flooring applications and shutter boards at construction sites.”