Register to comment and receive news in your inboxRegister or Log in

Here’s why South Africa is winning at recycling

When it comes to collection and recycling PET plastic (think plastic beverage bottles), South Africa is on par with many countries in Europe – thanks in part to the hard-working people in the collection and recycling sector around the country.

Now, a newly released docu-series titled Sorted, directed by veteran actor-director Louw Venter, showcases these inspiring champions and the hardships they’ve had to overcome to build thriving businesses and uplift their communities.

In addition to being featured in the series, the subjects have been honoured for their work by Petco, South Africa’s longest-standing producer responsibility organisation (PRO) which oversees collection and recycling efforts of post-consumer packaging throughout the country.

Petco CEO Cheri Scholtz said she was proud of the role the organisation played in driving change across the packaging value chain towards a circular economy in which “packaging can be repurposed back into packaging”.

“When it comes to PET beverage bottle collection and recycling, we are doing well and are on a par with many countries in Europe,” she said.

“We have built a sustainable value chain for South Africa’s collection and recycling sector to thrive. We have built local capacity, stimulating collection and unlocking feedstock, and we have developed local end-use markets. That is key to the success of the Petco model and has created substantial and sustainable value in the collection and recycling value chain.”

Sorted unpacks the significance of the collection and recycling sector for consumers – as well as how consumers can pitch in and make a difference.

“There is a whole sub-sector of society here who designs for recycling, reclaims waste, sells it to buy-back centres and makes material that makes new packaging products, all while adding value to people’s lives, communities and our country in the process,” says actress Lindiwe Dim, a self-declared “concerned consumer” who narrates the series and speaks to various collection and recycling role-players around the country.

Sorted, at a glance:

In Ladysmith, husband and wife team Razia and Aslam Patel have energised the community with their recycling education and awareness drives with the local government, schools and residents.

Their recycling business, Why Waste, employs 65 community members, provides a revenue stream to a network of 250 waste pickers and collects over 7,000 tonnes of recyclables annually – providing value to recyclables by keeping them out of landfills and in circulation.

Why Waste has received this year’s Petco Environmental and Education Awareness Initiative award for its good work in the sector.

“A lot of people in the community didn’t know that we, as a recycling depot, are diverting this much waste from landfill,” Razia tells Dim. Razia also heads many of the education drives at local schools, saying: “It starts with the kids. The idea is for [them] to go home and influence their parents to change their behaviours around waste management.”

In Nelspruit, Dim meets recycling entrepreneur, Dimakatso Mbatha. A joint recipient of the Petco Top Woman in Collection and Recycling award, Mbatha established her recycling business with the aim of helping abused women and fellow community members in need.

With Mbatha’s B-Tech in Environmental Health qualification and 15 years of experience in the sector, Dim says of her meeting: “Dimakatso is such an inspiring person. My meeting with her made me question my own role in society.”

In the Helderberg region, Dim visits the Stellenbosch Community Recycling Initiative by CL Trading – a recipient of the Petco Best Community Recycling Initiative award.

The initiative collects over 3,000 tonnes of recyclables annually – about the same weight as 500 African bull elephants – providing a vital revenue stream to self-employed waste pickers in the community.

Speaking of the initiative’s good work in the community, CL Trading managing director Shaun Styger tells Dim how pupils are rewarded for excelling at school.

“The kids will come showing their [good] marks from school, and we’ll reward them [some money] for it. That means something to them and gives them inspiration to go further at school,” Styger says.

In the North West, Dim travels to the Bojanala Platinum District Municipality  – recipient of the Petco Local Authority Recycling Innovation award – where one of many interventions, a waste transfer station, has been set up. It comprises a large warehouse space where recyclables are separated from general household waste. After seven days, the residual waste is transported – largely free of any recyclable materials – from the transfer station to the local landfill.

“I leave Bojanala Municipality feeling encouraged,” says Dim after her visit. “[There’s an] inner circle of people who are managing to make a real difference.”

In Johannesburg, Dim learns from one of Africa’s largest and most advanced recyclers of PET bottle materials, Extrupet.

“For us, [packaging] design is the starting point and the centrepoint if products are to be [recyclable and] circular in any stage of their life,” Extrupet joint managing director Chandru Wadhwani tells Dim.

Dim speaks to Petco Design for Circularity award recipient, CCL Africa. Shivern Reddy, a business development director at the company, explains the innovation behind CCL’s EcoFloat® shrink sleeve technology – among the first recyclable shrink sleeve solutions for the PET bottle market in the country.

Reddy tells Dim how, in being able to separate PET bottles’ shrink sleeves from the bottles themselves during the recycling process, the circular economy is enabled. That’s because the recycled PET bottles can be recycled back into new PET bottles, free of being contaminated by the shrink sleeves during the recycling process, as was the case in the past.

“CCL has been developing a polyolefin film… which allows for complete separation [of the shrink sleeve from the PET bottle being recycled],” he says.

Also in Johannesburg, Dim meets the founder of Whole Earth Recycling, Carmen Jordaan. A joint recipient of this year’s Petco Best Community Recycling Initiative award, Jordaan is recognised for helping pioneer kerbside recycling collections in South Africa. The company employs over 50 people, 30 of whom comprise previously unemployed and disadvantaged women. It benefits an estimated 50,000 people in the community.

In Klerksdorp, Dim visits Matlosana Recycling, a woman-owned and managed buy-back centre. There, founder Cindy Foord – joint recipient of this year’s Petco Top Woman in Collection and Recycling award – employs 23 permanent staff and supports 160 waste pickers by purchasing their recyclables.

“Everyone that comes in here [to sell a recyclable] bottle or paper, I know that is their food for the day. That drives me… but a lot of people don’t know that [recyclable materials are] worth something,” Foord tells Dim.

In the Cape Flats, Dims investigates one of the Western Cape’s largest material waste recovery facilities, run by Waste Want – a joint recipient of Petco PET-repreneur award. Co-founder Lydia Anderson-Jardine tells Dims that on top of employing 1,000 community members full-time and supporting about 500 waste pickers, Waste Want also does the collection of recyclables and runs recycling awareness programmes in the community.

The penultimate docu-series episode follows Dim to KwaZulu Natal. In Pinetown, joint Petco PET-repreneur award recipient Bevlen Sudhu outlines his circular economy solutions company, Re-Purpose.

“We currently process about 10 tonnes of [recyclable] plastic bottles a day,” Sudhu tells Dim. “A waste picker in the community that we empower will bring the recyclables to us [for processing]. We then pass it on to the producer who turns the [bailed recycling] into raw material.

“Our work of supporting one waste champion, in turn, helps over thirty others to earn an income while diverting waste from their local landfill. Our impact is both social and environmental, which also leads to economic growth in our country.”

In the season finale of Sorted, Dim reflects on her journey, saying: “If we all play our individual parts, we can make it work.”

Catch the nine-episode docu-series on YouTube by clicking here.