Pitch in and help clean-up South Africa


    Recycling text Garden waste is dropped off at the Kraaifontein Integrated Waste Management Facility, where it is chipped and cut into small bits. This is then sent to be converted into compost. (Images: Lorraine Kearney)

    South Africa recycles 22% of all its plastic products, with 47 000 informal jobs created through saving waste from landfills, according to Anton Hanekom, the executive director of Plastics SA.

    Hanekom was speaking to representatives of the parliamentary portfolio committees on the environment, trade and industry, and small business. The officials undertook a study tour on 18 September of the Kraaifontein Integrated Waste Management Facility and Tuffy Manufacturing, in Cape Town, to get a better understanding of the value of recycling.

    The tour was an element of the annual National Clean-up and Recycle Week, which ran from 14 to 19 September. Brand South Africa was a partner on the tour and a stakeholder in clean-up week through its Play Your Part initiative. Play Your Part is a national campaign that prompts all South Africans to contribute to positive change. The clean-up week, with the social media hashtag #CleanUpSA, was a perfect example of this. It encourages all South Africans to separate their waste, recycle and keep their environments clean.

    The week culminated in the 30th International Coastal Clean-up Day on 19 September. On this day, millions of volunteers worldwide clean up coastlines and waterways. Every year, thousands of kilograms of almost every imaginable type of waste is removed along the world’s shorelines, and – according to Plastics SA – South Africa is recognised as one of the leading participants.

    deon kotze text Deon Kotze, the senior foreman at the Kraaifontein Integrated Waste Management Facility, explains to the parliamentarians how the facility works.


    Plastics SA, an NPO, is the umbrella body for the South African plastics industry. It represents the whole value chain in the industry, from raw material to recyclers to fabricators. Hanekom explained to the parliamentarians its four pillars, which would ultimately result in a cleaner environment and more jobs and skills:

    • Zero plastics to landfill: The goal was no plastic waste going to landfill. This had obvious environmental implications, but it was also important because plastic was valuable. “Even used plastic has value,” said Hanekom. “Most of South Africa’s good quality, clean used plastic is exported to China, where it is used to create products.”
    • Growth and increasing capacity: In South Africa, we used 27kg of plastics per person; in the US, this was 140kg per person, meaning there was plenty of opportunity to grow the industry, particularly through exports into Africa beyond SADC. Linked to this was the idea of replacing imports, Hanekom explained. “We import a lot of finished products. We are looking at how to replace these, make these locally. We need to ask the question: ‘Am I not exporting a job when I buy imported products?'” Developing local capacity through building black industrialists was key to filling these gaps in the value chain.
    • Innovation: This builds on from the second pillar. “Thirty years ago, we created world performers, such as the Kreepy Krauly, but we have lost that initiative and creativity. So innovation is our third focus. We are working with universities to create and innovate. Linked to this is skills development. We need to prepare for the future by building the skills today.”
    • Working together: Partnerships with all three levels of government as well as other role players need to be built to jointly tackle these issues and move forward. “We can’t solve these problems on our own; [we] need to work together,” said Hanekom.

    recycling graphicOne of the more startling finds is that South Africa recycles more than 280 000 tons of plastic packaging a year. (Image: Plastics SA)


    Hanekom unpacked some of the key findings of the Plastix 911 survey of the plastics recycling industry in 2014, saying 1.4 m tons of plastics from domestic production and imported materials were converted in South Africa in the year. A total of 315 600 tons of plastics were diverted from landfill in 2014, an increase of 9% over 2013. The diversion from landfill rate was 22.5%, up from 20% in 2013.

    Plastics going to landfill decreased by 3.2% in 2014. Formal employment in the sector increased by 34% to 6 037 workers; informal employment increased to 47 420 – this meant that 53 457 jobs were sustained in the plastics recycling sector, an increase of 11.4% over 2013.

    It is an important industry, and is defined as a priority sector by the government. Plastics manufacturing contributes approximately 1.6% to South Africa’s gross domestic product and 14.2% to the manufacturing sector.

    Turning to job creation, Hanekom said the association trained more than 3 000 people a year in various skills for the industry. Its focus was to create more opportunities in small industries, and thus create more jobs. At present, there were an estimated 1 800 converters in the country – companies that turned plastic into product – and about 221 recycling companies. Most of these were small, medium and micro enterprises.

    “There is value in the waste,” Hanekom pointed out. “For example, PET bottles are either recycled back to bottles, or they are broken down into fibres, which are then used for things such as duvet inners, jacket linings, T-shirts, fleecy tops and shoes.”

    But there was a lack of clean, useful waste to recycle, making separation at source a big drive for the association. “Households should have two bags of waste – one that goes to landfill, that cannot be reused, the other for all other waste, which should be collected and professionally separated, before it is sent into the recycle stream.”

    Education and incentive were critical to recycling. The public needed to be made aware of recycling, and they needed to be encouraged to do so. It would create jobs and save the environment, he concluded.

    recycling graphic 2South Africa converts 1.4 tons of virgin material into plastic products each year. ( Image: Plastics SA)


    • South Africa diverts about 315 600 tons of plastic from landfills every year, and recovers 33% of all plastics packaging material.
    • South Africa converts 1.4-million tons of plastics a year to make plastic products. And 280 000 tons of plastic packaging is recycled every year. 
    • On the way to zero plastic to landfill, 5-million plastic bottles are recycled every year.
    • There are about 47 000 informal jobs in the recycling sector, with waste collectors making about R200 a day selling waste to recyclers.
    • South Africa converts 1.4 tons of virgin material into plastic products each year. Of this, 350 000 tons are diverted from landfill, meaning this waste is collected and recycled. Roughly 22% of plastics that is converted in South Africa has been recycled.

    For more information on how you can play your part by joining clean-up initiatives, finding drop off sites, or hints and tips on how to recycle, visit: Plastics SA, Clean-up South Africa, Recycling Day South Africa or My Waste.