Recycling opportunities

Recycle Garbage Concept

With increased pressure on landfills and more awareness surrounding the importance of recycling, using the industry to promote small business growth among others can have tangible impact in local economies.

According to the CSIR, South Africa creates around 108 million tonnes of solid waste annually (excluding mining waste) with approximately 90% going to landfills. In March this year, Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, reaffirmed Government’s commitment to growing the recycling economy during the inaugural National Waste Management Summit held in White River, Mpumalanga.

The waste recycling economy is an exciting approach that will not only eliminate threats to environmental quality and its integrity, but also positively contribute to the growth and development of South Africa’s economy. It is through this economic ingenuity that the DEA will also contribute to sustainable development and inclusive green economic growth by facilitating employment creation, infrastructure, skills development and strengthening Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) in the waste management sector.

Stacey Davidson, Executive Director of the Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of South Africa's (Redisa) says South Africa, as a first globally, has successfully implemented a fully functioning circular economy approach within the tyre industry. The circular economy provides multiple value creation mechanisms that are decoupled from the consumption of finite resources Davidson points out that the concept of a circular economy is not new, but the unique way they have implemented it is already seeing tangible improvements in terms of job creation (and subsequently poverty) through the development of a new industry.

“It is clear that our government, through the National Development Plan (NDP), is working to boost economic growth and create much needed jobs. We need all stakeholder involvement and collaboration between business and government to fast track our efforts to create jobs and drive economic growth, and this can be achieved by thinking out of the box in our approach.

“Going forward REDISA will play a critical role in developing an environment in which the new tyre recycling industry can continue to thrive, resulting in increased job opportunities and the development of SMMEs. By continuing to meet our mandate of job creation, new industry development and creating a viable circular economy within the tyre industry, all while cleaning the environment, we believe that we will have a tangible impact on South African communities, and assist government in meeting the job creation targets outlined in the NDP,” she says.

With approximately 10 million tonnes of food ending up wasted on South African landfills, packaging plays an important role in preventing further loss. According to the CSIR, approximately 51% of all packaging placed on the market is recycled with less than 2 million tonnes ending up as unrecovered waste.

These figures look good in terms of packaging recycling, but South Africa’s waste landscape is however much more complex. Mining waste, residual ash from power stations and building rubble all contribute to the bigger picture. When it comes to packaging however, the issue is unfortunately quite visible, in fact all over the street, sidewalk or veld as many would attest.

Empowering local government

Plastics SA’s Director of Sustainability, Douw Steyn, says in his opinion, waste management is the role of municipalities and ways need to be found to empower local government to do it the “right way”. “We find that most of the municipalities don’t have plans and we as an industry have got our plans and we are ready to recycle. We’ve been doing it for the last 30 years.”

Steyn says when it comes to packaging recycling, it is good quality material they are after. Unfortunately, a lot of the quality material often ends up in landfills and the challenge lies in diverting this for recycling purposes. For this reason separation at source is high on the agenda of things they are pushing for at the moment. He says another challenge is that people tend to only fully participate when the process is made easy for them. “It becomes a bit more of a challenge when they have to buy their own bin, their own bag to put their recyclables in where somebody collects it from their house,”

“We should promote separation at source because that is where the material lies. I think what we are trying to achieve as well is to get people off the landfills because it is unhealthy and unsafe. I think if we encourage separation at source we will get better quality material, the price of the material will be better, we can incorporate those people that are currently collecting. Even the trolley guys, get them into a more formal sector where there is some safety, where one can get a better quality of life,” he says.

Sorting waste

Steyn suggests a two-bag system in this regard, one for wet and one for dry, recyclables and waste. “The recyclables then gets collected by either private contractors or people that want the materials that can provide that service from the household, take it to a material recovery facility which is a sorting facility where people are trained how to sort properly because if it’s not sorted properly then the values are also low again.”

He does however highlight for recycling to be affective, there must be an end-market. In this regard Steyn does not believe that people are recycling for the environment’s sake, “we are doing it because it’s economically viable for us at this stage.” He also points out that if you can obtain a better quality of material, you can pay more for it which will increase the funding model for recyclables.

The Paper and Packaging Industry Waste Management Plan has been submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs, where four priority waste streams have been identified namely tyres, packaging, electronic waste and lighting. Instrumental in the drafting of the Plan is Charles Muller, Executive Director of Packaging SA.

In Muller’s opinion we not fully exploiting the opportunity to promote economic growth and job creation through recycling. “There are a few prerequisites that we need to embrace in South Africa”. Muller is equally convinced about the importance of introducing the two-bag system for separation at source. In fact, he believes it should be compulsory for households to have the system in place and lists it as the first prerequisite for growing the economy through recycling initiatives. “That enables us from a household point of view to get our hands on the recyclables and maximise the opportunity around that” he says.

Lack of education

Other issues related to recycling he points out is a lack of proper education regarding the topic, enforcement and laws against littering and dumping not being enforced enough, and free-loaders who sponge off the current system that has been put in place. Plastics SA’s Sustainability Council, which comprises various polymer associations, such as PETCO, POLYCO, PSPC, SAVA and the SA Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO), have a vision of Zero Plastics to Landfill by 2030. Muller says when it comes to the good work that is being done in the sector, these bodies are run by committed, passionate, hardworking, dedicated individuals.

“One of the comments we have made to the Government regarding the introducing of tax, is that if you introduce a tax, and you interfere you will undo the good work that many of these organisations have developed and created over many years. The success stories are there, we have good businesses, we have good operations that are cleaning up the environment and creating jobs and the message around that to the government is be careful that through unnecessary interference that you do not undo the good work these material organisations have done over many years,” he says.

With Clean-up and Recycle SA week coming up from 14-19 September, Steyn says “We want people to clean up this country because those materials should not lie in the environment, it’s got value and rather find out where you can recycle. The more we recycle the more we support those guys out there collecting and sorting.”

Concluding on the topic of recycling and its link to the development of SMMEs, Davidson says “lack of funding and access to other resources is often a limiting factor in the sector. We believe that in order to create an environment in which SMMEs can thrive, and create further job opportunities, it is essential for ‘incubation’ style initiatives to lead the way. By incubating small businesses and entrepreneurs, these individuals will be provided the skills transfer, support and training necessary to grow successful businesses. REDISA has been able to put 80% of revenue collected from the waste management fee back into local communities by creating a market for the handling of waste resulting in over 2500 jobs and 198 small businesses developed.”

Michael Meiring


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