CELEBRATING SUCCESS: Linah Ndala (left), of the Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs’ Zonda Insila Programme, and Swikoxeni Waste Management director Bethuel Mashele celebrate the positive environmental and community impacts of the collection and recycling of PET plastic bottles in South Africa

Over 2 billion plastic bottles recovered for recycling in SA

STATISTICS from South Africa’s longest-standing plastics producer responsibility organisation indicate that the country’s PET plastic recycling rates are recovering after the lockdown regulations resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to figures released at the PET Recycling Company’s (PETCO) annual general meeting in June, 2.1 billion PET bottles were diverted from landfill last year thanks to the various recycling efforts in which it was involved.

On the back of waste management experts warning that parts of South Africa could soon run out of landfill space, CEO Cheri Scholtz said PETCO’s efforts had saved an area equivalent to 560 495 cubic metres and prevented potential associated carbon emissions of 135 604 tons in 2021.

Despite a challenging year for the paper and packaging sector, PETCO, which represents producers of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) packaging, grew its collection of post-consumer PET bottles for recycling by 14% – from 79 078 tons in 2020 to 90 402 tons in 2021.

“In spite of the impact of prolonged Covid-19 lockdowns and curfews on collection rates, which restricted the movement of informal collectors, 63% of PET packaging that was placed on the market by PETCO members was collected for recycling in 2021,” Scholtz said.

“Once lockdown regulations eased, PETCO made a concerted effort to stimulate collection by supporting informal waste pickers and formal collection businesses, buy-back centres, and recyclers, and encouraging them to grow capacity and capability.”

With mandatory Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations laying down Year 1 targets for PET of 60% for beverage bottles, 7% for oil bottles, 9% for thermoforms and 60% for single-use products, she said the current collection rate places PETCO in good stead to meet these targets.

“In 2021, we started to expand our reporting methodology in order to be able to track progress against all the identified products that our members place on the market for which we offer an EPR scheme. Using information provided by our members on exactly what they place on the market, in combination with assumptions provided by our recycling partners of the make-up of a typical bale that they purchase, we were able to measure collection of identified products such as beverage bottles, oil bottles, home and personal care bottles and non-PET elements such as labels and closures.

“In 2022, we will be doing full bale characterisation studies which will allow us to report with further granularity, not only meeting the requirements of the regulations but showing our diverse membership how we are tracking their particular products,” said Scholtz.

She said PETCO’s key objective was to keep members’ packaging out of the environment, where it does not belong, and increasingly get it recycled to be re-used in packaging.

The PET recycling economy created real value, said Scholtz, generating a total of R1.2 billion for the South African economy through the placement of end-use products on local and international markets in the year under review.

According to Scholtz, the food-grade and bottle-to-bottle sector represented the most circular use of PET and accounted for one third of all collected tonnage in the PET recycling economy last year.