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The Latest Recycling News and Stats in South Africa

  • The latest South African recycling statistics have been verified and released. They show clear growth as well as improvement across the recycling sector on a year-by-year basis. In total, South Africa had recycled around 519 400 tonnes of plastic waste during 2018, representing a 46.3% recycling rate and making the country a world leader in mechanical recycling. Of this volume, 70% was recovered from the landfill waste stream by formal and informal waste collectors. This has saved South Africa 246 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere had this plastic waste been left to sit in a landfill. The country’s recycling sector is continuously growing and improving.

    Difficult operating environment for recycling companies

    Despite the growth of the sector, 2018 was a very tough year and it presented a lot of challenges to recyclers. The South African economy only saw a 0.8% growth rate – one of the worst-performing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. This, in turn, affected all industries including the recycling and plastics sector, which still managed to stay afloat, and improve from the previous year.

    “With this economic backdrop, the last financial year was an extremely difficult period for established recyclers that had to navigate numerous challenges, including tough drought conditions, a steep hike in electricity prices, power outages, shifts in the regulatory environment (with waste licenses coming under the spotlight), problems with supply, competition in a saturated market, higher operational costs and crippling wage negotiations and strike action,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom.

    Growth in local plastics recycling

    South Africa has always had a strong waste management industry that is able to cope with the country’s output waste. Many developed countries around the world used to export their waste to Asian countries, however, China started a trend by banning these waste imports. This forced Western countries to find alternative solutions to dealing with their own waste.

    South Africa was not affected by this ban. Our waste has always been locally recycled into raw materials as well as new products. As a result, European recycling rates are 15% lower than that of South Africa, despite us only having formal waste management services for 64% of households.

    The plastic recycling industry in South Africa provided almost 58 500 income opportunities for South Africans during 2018. Of these, 7892 were formal jobs while the rest were informal collectors that earn money by sourcing and collecting recyclable waste from landfills. Through these jobs, R2.27 billion was injected into the South African economy.

    The demand for recycled waste has increased tremendously. The buying prices of these materials have grown by 15% since the previous year. More recyclables are being established and more businesses are being formed in order to supply recyclables to local as well as foreign industries. Over 67 000 tonnes of plastic recyclate was sold to the flexible packaging industry in 2018. The clothing and footwear industry purchased over 50 000 tonnes of recycled plastics. Agriculture, construction, rigid packaging, and furniture are other popular end-markets for plastic recycling.

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