South Africa has seen an astonishing increase in recycling tonnage of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) with collection rates increasing from 14% in 2005 to 65% in 2017 of total PET volumes. This puts the country ahead of some developed markets when it comes to collection rates, such as the EU (2016: 60%) and US (2016: 28.4%).
In a country that has seen PET consumption steadily rising over the past few decades as consumers turn to PET bottles for their flexibility, lightness and affordability, the Voluntary End Producer Responsibility programme (VEPR) represents what can be achieved when beverage manufacturers work alongside NGOs, communities and government to take responsibility for post-consumer packaging.
This Voluntary End Producer Responsibility programme (VEPR) has proven pivotal to growing the recycling ecosystem in South Africa over the past 18 years into a thriving R250m/year industry, providing job opportunities for more than 64 000 waste pickers, and creating small, entrepreneurial waste collection businesses along the value chain.
But it requires significant financial support from manufacturers such as The
Since the recycling of PET (as with many other waste streams) competes with, for example, the price of virgin materials, economic support through incentives or subsidies is often required to sustain the end-use, demand-side market. For over a decade,
At major recycling partner, Mpact Polymers, situated in Johannesburg, nearly 29 000t of post-consumer PET bottles are being processed at the R350m state-of-the art facility each year to produce 21 000t of recycled PET (rPET) for food and beverage packaging. It is one of only seven such operations worldwide that meets the
After a process of compacting, heating, flaking and rolling, tiny round pellets created from waste PET bottles will make their way into thumb-sized pre-forms – the plastic moulds that make millions of new beverage bottles.
The VEPR model dovetails with The
To achieve these ambitious targets, more PET will need to be collected, recycled and transformed into food grade quality.
Since recyclers like Mpact pay collectors by weight, the dirtier the bottles, the more expensive they are to businesses like Mpact. Converting bottles from landfills into food grade material becomes less profitable because not only are they more expensive, but they also require additional cleaning and sterilising.
“Ultimately if more households and consumers separated their waste in their homes and businesses before collection and if they rinsed their PET bottles when empty, cost efficiencies would result along the reverse logistics supply chain,” says Dr Casper Durandt, head of sustainability at
“As a culture of recycling and environmental sustainability grows, we should see a more sustainable supply of post-consumer PET developing,” says Durandt. “In turn, we should see more investment in recycling infrastructure and capacity, helping to build sustainable PET recycling across the continent.”