Mpact Plastics is leading the way in developing a circular economy within the manufacturing industry in South Africa – through implementing sustainable products and manufacturing processes.

During 2019, Mpact Plastics designed a recyclable plastic wheel for municipal wheelie bins, meaning that the traditional rubber wheel was replaced with a new and improved 100% recyclable wheel.

The project commenced with commercial production in 2020.

This new development forms part of Mpact Plastic Containers’ diversion of an estimated 24 000 tonnes of plastic from going to landfill over the past five years, by converting waste into new or reusable products.

The recyclable wheelie bin project emerged from the global concept of having a circular approach to products, components and materials in the economy. The circular economy concept promotes the use of recycled materials to manufacture new products.

“Rubber from the old end-of-life rubber wheels went to our already overflowing landfill sites. Millions of end-of-life tyres are currently either being disposed of or illegally dumped, with only small amounts being recycled. It was therefore important to create an alternative to the rubber wheel to overcome this challenge,” says Lance Kallis, environmental manager of Mpact Plastic Containers (MPC).  

Towards circularity

A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative by intention and design. It is a model of production and consumption, which involves the sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling of existing materials and products for as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended.

This signals a departure from the traditional, linear economic model, which is based on a take-make-consume-discard pattern and relies on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy.

Evidence has shown this model to be unsustainable.

For Mpact’s products and manufacturing processes, this means that what cannot be reused should be collected, recycled and made into new products. This is not only good business, but benefits the environment, communities and the economy.

History of sustainability

MPC forms part of Mpact Operations and is the leading supplier of plastic containers in the Southern African market. MPC also supplies a range of industries across Europe and the African continent.

The company’s primary competency is the manufacturing of wheelie bins, including municipal bins, jumbo bulk bins for the agricultural industry, agricultural crates, composters, and various containers and crates for the materials handling sector.

MPC offers a fresh, modern approach to plastic packaging, moving away from outdated, single-trip disposable packaging and is instead developing an array of reusable containers that constitute the largest range of returnable transit packaging (RTP) systems in South Africa.

Innovation

There was a time when rubber waste was collected and recycled in South Africa; however, this is no longer economically viable. Rubber takes between 50 to 80 years to decompose. As the population increases, and we use more products, there is a need to ask ourselves whether the planet is equipped to handle the increasing amount of rubber waste.

Municipalities are large consumers of goods and are therefore well placed to drive circularity at scale. They can procure in a responsible manner, thereby meeting their constitutional mandate by purchasing products made of recycled materials.

By procuring recyclable products, these metros are able to divert waste from landfills, develop end-markets for plastic recyclers, secure offtakes to their own bin waste, and create sustainable employment. Many municipalities have adopted these new 100% recyclable wheels and have received positive feedback.

The circular process begins with new plastic wheels being manufactured locally at MPC. Once complete, the bins are then assessed by the Quality Department and delivered to the customer for use. When the bin reaches its end-of-life, it can also be returned and recycled into new products. In this way, both the bins and wheels are turned into new products.

MPC has succeeded in creating a closed-loop system through this innovative solution. The business collects damaged and condemned bins, then exchanges these for new bins. The condemned bins must be identifiable as locally manufactured from HDPE and free of oil and waste.

The 240-litre wheelie bin is designed for industrial, household and hospitality use. It features a specially designed rim flange for mechanical lifting and decanting; and can withstand the rigours of this handling. The bin is designed to be shock-absorbent, resistant to chemical attack, and will withstand the extreme and frequent temperature variations experienced in South Africa.

“In the past few years, South Africa has seen huge growth in the circular economy,” advises Kallis. “Continuous engagement and ongoing extended producer responsibility regulation conversations are essential, as it allows engagement between producers and end-users, who are predominantly linear in their approach.”

By closing resource loops, and working towards reducing waste, cities can significantly contribute to the circular economy. This model serves as a catalyst for innovation, entrepreneurial opportunities and sustainable job creation.

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