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New data shows how Petco drove the collection and recycling of post-consumer packaging last year

Newly released audited data reveals how South Africa’s longest-standing producer responsibility organisation (PRO), Petco, drove the collection and recycling of post-consumer packaging last year.

Since 2004, the organisation has been administering the voluntary collection and recycling of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and jars, and their associated labels and closures, on behalf of its members.

In 2023, which represents Year 2 of the country’s now-mandatory extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation, Petco achieved 98% of legislated targets set by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s (DFFE) for these products by volume.

The EPR regulations require that packaging producers – brand owners, retailers and importers – take responsibility for the full life cycle of their post-consumer packaging, so that it does not end up in the environment or landfill.

Petco achieved the required 64% collection rate and exceeded the 58% (60% achieved) recycling rate for PET beverage bottles placed on the market by its members.

These members currently include brand owners such as Unilever, Tiger Brands, Twizza, The Beverage Company, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, and retailers Pick n Pay and Woolworths.

Last year, the organisation diversified its focus by welcoming new member Tetra Pak and their customers, established an EPR scheme for liquid board packaging (LBP), and started to build a sustainable value chain for these cartons.

In one year, Petco achieved 80% of the legislated recycling target for LBP during what it refers to in its annual report as the set-up phase.

To stimulate the collection of this packaging, the organisation also grew the number of active buy-back centres in the value chain from seven to 32, and increased the price paid for LBP on the ground.

Chief executive officer Cheri Scholtz said Petco had been building a sustainable value chain for post-consumer PET packaging in South Africa for almost two decades and had propelled the nation towards a circular economy for this packaging.

“We’ve now taken everything we’ve learned over our 19-year journey with PET and applied our experience to building a sustainable model for LBP. This is in line with our expanded vision to drive circularity within the broader packaging value chain.”

The combined results for PET and LBP also indicate that Petco’s collection and recycling efforts last year on behalf of its members:

  • Saved 64,100 cubic metres of landfill space
  • Alleviated 314,500 tonnes of carbon emissions associated with virgin material production
  • Provided infrastructure support to buy-back centres that helped sustain 910 employment opportunities and the livelihoods of more than 8,000 waste pickers.
  • Saw 77 recycling workshops and three accredited business training courses conducted nationwide, drawing almost 6,000 participants
  • Supported 58 municipalities countrywide and two national and nine provincial departments with collection and recycling initiatives.

Scholtz said the annual figures were about more than just statistics but rather demonstrated how Petco had contributed to the economy, sustained income opportunities for ordinary South Africans and prevented packaging from entering the environment.

Last year, Petco invested over R70 million in the collection and recycling value chain, enabling contracted recyclers to purchase R309 million in post-consumer packaging from collection businesses.

“We have a dedicated team on the ground in each province, working with corporate partners and various tiers of government, as well as waste pickers, and collectors to advance the collection of recyclable packaging, particularly those of interest to Petco members,” said Scholtz.

She said the organisation had supported 100 collection projects countrywide – inclusive of waste pickers, SMMEs and co-operatives – with equipment such as baling machines, trailers, trolleys, scales and personal protective equipment to improve the quality and quantity of their collections.

“For us, the EPR targets are not a burden. They present a real opportunity to assist our members in advancing South Africa’s circular economy by strengthening every single link in the value chain – no matter how big or small.”

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