PETCO (PET Recycling Company) was established at the end of 2004 and is based on the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). The goal is to act as the vehicle through which the PET industry could self-regulate and co-ordinate its recycling activities.
PETCO, as a non-profit company, is not involved in the physical collection or recycling of waste PET in South Africa, choosing to remain outside of the PET recycling value chain. Instead, it acts as a Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) that financially supports, on behalf of its members, activities along the waste PET value chain. PETCO members include brand-owners, resin producers, converters (who manufacture bottles from PET resin), and bottlers.
A key component of the PETCO model is the voluntary EPR fee paid by industry (on PET resin purchased locally or imported) and grants from brand owners, retailers, and resin producers. PETCO uses the revenue it collects to support recyclers, particularly during adverse economic cycles. Given that the market price of PET fluctuates because of fluctuations in oil prices, exchange rates, demand from large countries such as China, and other factors, it can be a volatile market. This support for the recycling value chain is paid out at contracted rates for tonnages, in line with PETCO’s annual recycling targets. In turn, recyclers are then able to ensure consistent demand for post-consumer PET from collectors.
Since the establishment of PETCO, post-consumer PET bottle recycling in South Africa has grown from 2% in 2000 to 63% in 2018 – with a total of 98,649 tonnes of PET or 2.3 billion bottles being recycled – equating to 6.2 million bottles collected every day in 2018. This is a substantial achievement in a relatively short span of time.
Recognizing that business innovation sits at the heart of economic transitions, PETCO views itself as a catalyst for the design for recycling innovation, preserving the value of existing resources, and utilizing rPET (recycled PET) in more and more applications. Through targeted support of recycling operations, PETCO has stimulated the development of local end-user markets as well as the export of fiber produced from bottles that would have ended up in landfill sites. More recently, Bottle-2-Bottle Plants have been established with support from PETCO. Recent investments to manufacture PET strapping and monofilament exclusively from post-consumer material marks an important step in reviving local manufacturing in a sector that has for many years been serviced almost exclusively by imports.
The collection network of post-consumer PET material in South Africa is largely unregulated or self-regulated, with no widespread municipal separation at-source collection systems in place yet. Recyclables are mostly recovered from co-mingled waste by a network of informal collectors and micro-entrepreneurs. These collectors consolidate and supply post-consumer PET bottles to industrial-scale recycling operations, typically via intermediary agents such as buy-back centers. In many cities in South Africa, PET recycling activities provide income-generating opportunities and improved livelihoods for the urban poor.
In addition to the support of the value chain provided via large-scale recyclers (demand-side), PETCO also supports collectors (supply-side) through the sponsorship of infrastructure and equipment. This support is in the form of trolleys, bulk bags, personal protective equipment (PPE), baling machines, and other items – to individual collectors, SMEs and co-operatives, and community-based organizations.
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