PET Plastics Crest SA’s Recycling Wave
The global movement away from single-use plastics is gathering momentum every day. South Africa continues to make significant strides in its PET plastic recycling efforts. Something worth taking note of.
Firstly, what is PET Plastic?
PET forms the basis of synthetic fibres like polyester and is also recognised in the packaging industry as the rigid plastic used for a wide range of food and non-food applications.
Think of everyday items you use such as beverage bottles, peanut butter jars, dishwashing liquid and others. It’s also used to make sandwich trays, fruit punnets and biscuit trays.
PET is light (up to 3.5 x lighter than alternatives), hygienic, shatterproof, re-sealable and 100% recyclable when basic design principles are followed. PET bottles make up approximately 68% of the total PET market in South Africa, with thermoformed trays, edible-oil bottles, jars and strapping accounting for the balance.
Who is PETCO and what is EPR?
PETCO is a company committed to reducing the impact of PET plastic on the environment and increasing recycling rates. The company fulfils the PET industry’s role of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) through being a voluntary, industry-driven and financed environmental solution for post-consumer PET plastic.
Incorporated in 2004, PETCO’s mission is to grow the collection and recycling of PET bottles, after consumer use, on behalf of their members. Their efforts are financed by a voluntary recycling fee, paid by converters, on every tonne of raw material they purchase, as well as grants from brand owners, resin producers and retailers.
“Clearly, it cannot be right to allow plastics to leak into the environment. Neither is it acceptable to lose the opportunity to utilise plastic as a fit-for-purpose and cost-effective material for so many applications,”says PETCO chief executive officer Cheri Scholtz.
PETCO works with the whole PET value chain – from resin producers through to the converters, bottlers, brand owners, retailers and consumers. With everyone playing their part, the role of EPR promotes the integration of environmental costs associated with PET plastic products throughout their life cycles into the market costs of the products.
How much is PETCO Recycling?
The PETCO EPR model has ensured year-on-year growth in recycling rates and tonnages for PET bottles since 2004. In 2018, they achieved a 63% recycling rate for PET bottles, which equates to just under 99 000 tonnes for the year.
This means a total of 2.3 billion PET bottles were collected for recycling for the year, or 6.2 million bottles each and every day.
As a country, South Africa can be proud to have one of the highest independently audited PET bottle recycling rates in the world. To date, 700 000 tonnes of bottles have been collected for recycling, which is the same as filling more than 250 Olympic sized pools with bottles.
PETCO has also saved more than 1 000 000 tonnes of carbon through recycling PET bottles, which is the same as taking 140 000 cars off the road for a year. Wow!
The largest end-use market for recycled PET, or rPET as it is called, is into polyester-stable fibre, which can be used in a variety of product such as duvets, reusable shopping bags and pillows. Bottles can also be recycled into a food-grade resin, for use in clamshells for sandwiches, tubs and trays for confectionary items.
The PETCO model of subsidising every kilogram of PET that is recycled in SA has created 68 000 income opportunities. This has positively impacted small and micro-collectors, changing their lives and those of their families in immeasurable ways.
Currently, most thermoformed PET trays contain at least 40% recycled content. A PET thermoform recycling pilot was created to see if they could be made into polyester fibre and the results were positive.
The manufacturing, distribution and sale of these types of products have injected an estimated R1.2 billion into the South African economy. To the point that South Africa no longer imports polyester staple fibre. This PET fibre is now even being exported, bringing valuable foreign earnings into the country.
Making Waves of Change
These truly are encouraging statistics; it means the efforts we’re making are having a tangible impact on a problem that is everyone’s responsibility. The use of plastic has received unprecedented pressure and attention in the public space, which has undoubtedly brought about change.
Companies failing to address environmental performance in product design will find it increasingly difficult to compete in the global market. Consumers have a key role to play in making the recycling process cheaper and more effective.
How can you make a difference?
In South Africa, the largest volume of recyclables is obtained from landfill and other post-consumer sources. Landfill material is of poor quality and contaminated and therefore very expensive to recycle.
- Consumers can assist by removing recyclables from the waste stream at home.
- Put it in a clear plastic bag on top of your dustbin so that waste reclaimers can remove it.
- Rinse plastic containers in old dishwashing water before putting it in the recycling bin.
Find a drop-off site for your PET bottles and other recyclables closest to you. Also check for local NGOs, schools and shopping centres in your area that offer recycling facilities.
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