By Grant Stokoe
From a foreign perspective, as I am from the United States, recycling in South Africa seems almost non-existent on the surface based on the amount of garbage and litter in the streets of Cape Town. However, the country’s efforts with regard to recycling in recent years go against this notion.
South Africa’s economy has struggled in the past, but the recycling industry has grown 6.7% from 2018 to 2019 (“Plastics SA releases the latest recycling figures”). One contributing factor to this growth is the change from using virgin plastics in common grocery bags. According to Plastics SA, PCR plastic, or post-consumer resin, incorporates “material that is made from the items that consumers recycle every day, like aluminum, cardboard boxes, paper, and plastic bottles” (“What are Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) Plastics?”).
On the bright side, the recycling sector also boosts the South African economy. For instance, there are 7892 formal jobs in the recycling sector and roughly 58,470 informal jobs relating to waste pickers, informal traders, and individual recyclers (“Plastics SA releases the latest recycling figures”). These jobs are vital to the recycling industry’s success.
In terms of specific items that can be recycled, there are broad groups that most plastics fall under. Like in most countries, different types of plastics are categorized by their ability to be recycled. The number system is a great way to determine which plastics are recyclable or not. PETE is 1, HDPE is 2, PVC is 3, LDPE is 4, PP is 5, PS is 6, and other is 7. The ‘other’ category refers to acrylic, polycarbonate, nylon, and fiberglass (“What do the number symbols on plastic mean?”). These guidelines are a great way to determine which plastics are which to make sure you recycle the correct items.
The most commonly recycled material in 2018 was low-density polyethylene (LDPE), such as packaging films and shopping bags. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) beverage bottles were the second most-recycled type of plastic. High-density polyethylene (HDPE), such as milk bottles, plastic drums and crates, were also widely processed. Polypropylene (PP), ice cream tubs and straws, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics recycling also showed steady growth during 2018 (“What do the number symbols on plastic mean?”).
Furthermore, when recycling plastics, you must make sure that the plastics are cleaned and dried to prevent mold. If recyclable plastics are dirty and/or contaminated with other non-recyclable material, recycling facilities must spend extra money and time to clean the plastics before undergoing the recycling process.
- “Plastics SA releases the latest recycling figures” https://www.plasticsinfo.co.za/2019/08/20/plastics-sa-releases-latest-recycling-figures/
- “What are Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) Plastics?” https://epacflexibles.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-post-consumer-recycled-pcr-packaging/#:~:text=Post%2Dconsumer%20recycled%20content%2C%20often,%2C%20paper%2C%20and%20plastic%20bottles.
- “What do the number symbols on plastic mean?” https://www.averda.com/rsa/news/what-do-the-number-symbols-on-plastic-mean