REWARDING RECYCLING: Despite a challenging year for the paper and packaging sector, PETCO grew its collection of post-consumer PET bottles for recycling by 14%. (Photo credit: PETCO)

Collection rates

Over 2 billion plastic bottles recovered for recycling in SA

3:45 min AfricaSorting and collection
Cape Town, South Africa

STATISTICS from South Africa’s longest-standing plastics producer responsibility organisation indicate that the country’s PET plastic recycling rates are recovering after the lockdown regulations resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to figures released at the PET Recycling Company’s (PETCO) annual general meeting in June, 2.1 billion PET bottles were diverted from landfill last year thanks to the various recycling efforts in which it was involved.

On the back of waste management experts warning that parts of South Africa could soon run out of landfill space, CEO Cheri Scholtz said PETCO’s efforts had saved an area equivalent to 560 495 cubic metres and prevented potential associated carbon emissions of 135 604 tonnes in 2021.

Despite a challenging year for the paper and packaging sector, PETCO, which represents producers of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) packaging, grew its collection of post-consumer PET bottles for recycling by 14% – from 79 078 tonnes in 2020 to 90 402 tonnes in 2021.

“In spite of the impact of prolonged Covid-19 lockdowns and curfews on collection rates, which restricted the movement of informal collectors, 63% of PET packaging that was placed on the market by PETCO members was collected for recycling in 2021,” Scholtz said.  

“Once lockdown regulations eased, PETCO made a concerted effort to stimulate collection by supporting informal waste pickers and formal collection businesses, buy-back centres, and recyclers, and encouraging them to grow capacity and capability.”

According to Scholtz, the food-grade and bottle-to-bottle sector represented the most circular use of PET and accounted for one third of all collected tonnage in the PET recycling economy last year.

“As PETCO, we are focusing on supporting the value chain to ensure the availability of rPET for our members, who are also required by law to include a certain percentage of recycled PET content in their packaging. With PETCO’s support, provision of rPET increased by 17% in comparison to 2020.”

“To assist in addressing the current shortage of rPET and ensuring the sustainability of the recycling economy, our focus is now on designing packaging for circularity and the bottle-to-bottle markets.”

Scholtz added that the new regulatory requirements for producers of PET packaging and components had not demanded a massive shift for the organisation, as it had been operating as one of the few voluntary national EPR bodies working to targets for the past 17 years.

“PETCO remains the PRO of choice for the majority of PET bottle producers, as we assist our members to comply with the new regulations. As a voluntary PRO we had always set internal targets for key performance indicators such as collection, and we are now aligning with the regulated targets under the EPR legislation. However, our trusted approach within the PET collection and recycling value chain remains largely the same,” said Scholtz.

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