Latest plastics recycling rates released

Latest plastics recycling rates released

Plastics|SA, the umbrella body representing the local plastics industry (including polymer producers and importers, converters, machine suppliers and recyclers,) has just released the latest plastics

recycling figures for the past year (2012.)

“The plastics chain in South Africa employs over 60,000 people and is defined as a priority sector by Government,” says Anton Hanekom, Executive Director of Plastics|SA.  “The plastics industry has a combined turnover of approximately R50bn and a consumption rate of close to 1,370 million tons per annum. It therefore stands to reason that a major focus for us is ensuring that plastics are properly disposed of and recycled and that a viable recycling sector is established and supported,” Hanekom explains. 

Over the last five years, Plastics|SA has been carefully measuring the recycling rate of plastics in South Africa.  Although the last comprehensive and complete survey was done for 2009, the association has been releasing annual updates to measure the trends in recycling.  

The size of the local plastic recycling industry in South Africa

According to the latest survey, South Africa had more than 210 active plastic recyclers in operation during 2012.  19 recyclers who were recorded in 2011 were no longer operational, whilst 32 new recyclers had entered the recycling industry during the past year.  “We have seen that many waste management companies and collectors have streamlined their operations by vertically integrating with granulators and pelletising extruders, with, or without wash lines,” Hanekom says.

Tonnages recycled and recovered

2012 has seen a 9,3 % increase (268,548 tons) in the amount of plastic recycled, whilst the amount of virgin polymer used also grew by 5.4 % (1,370ktons) in the same period. Similarly, the amount of plastics that were exported also increased (14,744 tons) during this year.  

“We are very excited and motivated by these figures, as they show that the local plastics industry is robust and healthy despite worldwide economic pressures,” Hanekom says.  “However, even more encouraging and worth highlighting is the fact that the total tonnage of plastics waste diverted from landfill equates to 20.7% of all plastics manufactured in 2012, and that the local recycling rate was 19.6% compared to international standards of 26.3 %.”


In an effort to address the problem of plastics packaging contributing to visible litter, the South African plastics industry participated with other packaging role players in submitting the Paper and Packaging Industry Waste Management Plan to the Department of Environmental Affairs in 2011.  This plan aimed at reducing the plastic waste in the environment. Although the plan is not yet approved, industry are implementing its elements and it is starting to bear fruit, as we were able to divert a total of 216,932 tons of plastics packaging waste from landfill in 2012,” Hanekom says. In total, 204,400 tons of packaging were recycled in 2012, (a 8.5% increase from the previous year), while the export of plastics packaging waste also increased by more than 51% (from 8,294 tons in 2011 to 12,532 tons in 2012.)  

Despite these good recovery rates, the total amount of plastics packaging in the waste stream is still increasing.  With Separation at Source projects developing in the major metropolitan areas, this target can be reached when domestic solid waste is accessed.  If one million families each add one 1 litre yogurt tub every second week to their recyclable waste, the plastics packaging in the waste stream will start decreasing,” Hanekom says. 


It is estimated that 44,100 informal jobs were created during 2012 in the collection of recycling.  “These collectors collect all materials and are not only working with plastics,” Hanekom explains. It is estimated that each of these collectors handle on average 60kg of plastics waste per day, with approximately 200 good collection days per annum.

Formal employment in plastics recycling, however, shrank to 5,047 formal jobs in 2012 (a 0.3 % drop since 2011.) Of these, only 8.4% were contract workers who were involved in full time sorting incoming materials for the recyclers, usually on site.  These workers are paid for their output rather than for the time spent on the job.  

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