Challenges within the South African recycling industry | Infrastructure news

South Africa has one of the most effective recycling industries worldwide and according to a Plastics SA report, SA’s recycling rate is also a step ahead of Europe.

The country reportedly has a minimum of 300 recycling companies that vary in size, ranging from smaller enterprises to larger scale companies and according to Aurora sustainability blog, which focuses on safety environmental research, South Africa generated 42 million tons of waste in 2020. With the ever-rising global temperatures, people are becoming aware of the impact pollution has on the planet.

Due to the high statistics of unemployment currently at 34.9% in the country, there are about 50 000 waste pickers that earn a living by selling it to the various recycling companies.

In a report by Plastics SA, about 520 000 plastics were recycled in 2018 where 54% percent of the countries plastic waste is recycled by one of the top 30 plastic recycling companies.


Although most waste can be recycled, not all waste is being recycled.

Infrastructure plays a big role in recycling. Some materials (especially materials that are mixed such as wax-lined coffee cups, plastic trays in food packages) are not recycled because of the lack of equipment which would be used to recycle. Another issue that affects obtaining the adequate equipment are costs. Equipment is expensive and not enough undesirable waste is out there to warrant the need for it, Plastic SA revealed.

In the previous years, undesirable waste such as plastics – that are difficult to recycle – were shipped to China. Approximately 9.8% of waste came from South Africa however with the implementation of the government ban many nations were left to recycle for themselves.

In South Africa waste that cannot be recycled or deemed ‘unprofitable’ is often dumped in landfills while other countries have equipment such as incinerator technologies which can be used to process plastics to oil or energy.

South Africa currently recycles 46% of plastic which is higher than most countries. Paper is recycled at 70%, beverage cans/metal is recycled at 72% and glass is recycled at 42%.

The South African plastics industry is represented by Plastics SA and with a mandate to ensure a vibrant and sustainable industry. The organisation aims to tackle all the issues related to recycling, change of climate, recovering energy and the usage of resources.

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