Eco-heroes wear masks to make a difference where they are

Each year, the local plastics industry welcomes the arrival of Spring and warmer weather by encouraging citizens to help make a difference where they live, work, learn or play by participating in Clean-Up & Recycle SA Week – an annual public awareness week during which plastics and other litter are removed from our country’s neighbourhoods, rivers, streams, beaches and oceans. 

Plastics SA’s Director of Sustainability, Douw Steyn, explained that this year’s Clean-Up & Recycle SA Week is scheduled to take place from 14-19 September this year. This will coincide with National Recycling Day which takes place on Friday, 18 September and International Coastal Clean-Up Day/Let’s Do It World Clean-Up Day on Saturday, 19 September this year. 

“Unfortunately, early indications are that Covid-19 pandemic will be forcing a change in our plans to host our annual beach and community clean-ups,” said Steyn.

Steyn explained that South Africa finds itself in the same uncertain situation as countries around the world owing to the fact that large public gatherings are prohibited and beaches are closed in an effort to prevent the spreading of the disease.

He added that the International Coastal Clean-Up Day is the world’s biggest volunteer effort for ocean health and that South Africa has been a part of the event for more than twenty years. 

“We have seen tens of thousands of people give up two hours of their time to help rid our beaches of litter. This year, however, we will be supporting the global call to avoid large group gatherings and maintain social distancing in the interest of everybody’s health and safety,” Steyn said.

Covid-19 leads to a change in plans

Instead of flocking to beaches or gathering in groups for clean-ups, Plastics SA is spreading the message that this year, every South African should be an eco-warrior; one who wears a mask maintains safe distancing and makes a difference in their immediate area.

In the same way, the health pandemic has forced individuals to take responsibility for their health, the plastics and packaging industries are uniting their voices in calling on South Africans to also become responsible citizens when it comes to disposing of their waste.  Plastics SA believes it is possible for us to turn the tide on ocean pollution if every person becomes conscious of his or her immediate surroundings and picks up the visible litter around our homes and neighbourhoods.

Importance of recycling

Stey explained that it is necessary to recycle as much as possible to reduce the strain on the country’s landfill sites. He further added that recycling reduces the environmental footprint because it uses less water, energy and raw materials to create new products.

“In addition, more than 60 000 people are employed by the plastics manufacturing and recycling industries, making a meaningful contribution to the country’s economy,” Steyn added.

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PETCO is an industry-driven and financed national recycling initiative.

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.

The PETCO Business Model

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.

Development of Infrastructure for Local Beneficiation

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

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.

Support for Collectors

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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