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As Coca-Cola globally seeks to implement its World Without Waste strategy to address plastic waste in the environment, a unique voluntary, industry-driven solution is proving successful in growing the collection and recycling rates of PET in South Africa.

Funded by a voluntary levy paid by members who purchase PET resin, the PET Recycling Company (PETCO), of which Coca-Cola South Africa is a founding member, has helped grow PET collection rates from single digits in the early 2000s to 65% today, putting it on a par with international standards.

“We expect voluntary PET recycling volumes in South Africa to grow to 70% within the next three to four years,” said PETCO chair, Dr. Casper Durandt - who is also Head of Technical for the South African Franchise at Coca-Cola Southern & East Africa.

Chaired by the Principal Researcher of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr Suzan Oelofse, the roundtable showed how innovation and technical advancements present huge opportunities for the recycling industry in South Africa, putting the country at the forefront of driving a more circular economy. 

Innovation and technical advancements present untapped opportunities for the recycling industry in South Africa, putting the country at the forefront of driving a more circular economy. PETCO invests all funds raised in ensuring and encouraging visible recycling. CEO of PETCO, Cheri Scholtz, explained that PETCO invested all funds raised in ensuring and encouraging visible recycling. This included contracting and financing PET recyclers; educating consumers about recycling; undertaking joint venture projects with institutions such as municipalities; providing equipment support and sponsorship for collectors; and providing guidance to brand owners relating to design for recycling - ensuring products are compatible with local recycling infrastructure.

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Brand owners, such as Coca-Cola are developing innovative ways to reduce plastic waste, such as introducing plant-based materials into packaging; ensuring that up to 50% of the material used to make PET bottles was from recycled materials; and designing packaging that is 100% recyclable.

Bringing informal waste pickers into the formal recycling market is also important to improve collection rates sustainably. It is estimated that there are 66 000 waste pickers operating in the country and earning a living through the collection of PET bottles. By providing equipment support and sponsorship for collectors, PETCO has also helped build many informal operators into small and medium enterprises.

Maxwell Ndlovu, Director of Okuhle Wate Management, and a beneficiary of PETCO’s investment and support, has built a thriving recycling business, recycling thousands of tons of PET each month and supporting hundreds of waste-pickers with income-generating opportunities. Ndlovu is opening a third buy-back centre in South Africa, with further plans for expansion.

Ndlovu says educating consumers about the benefits of recycling is critical in improving collection rates and explained how door-to-door education awareness campaigns had been successful, especially in informal settlements, in helping to reduce waste and improve collection rates. “We need to change the mindset of consumers so that they understand how recycling can improve the environment they live in,” he said.

PETCO has also contributed to education through various school recycling competitions and projects undertaken with its partners, where it leveraged key relationships, partnered with government, invested in educational materials and sponsored prizes.

The model ensures all players - from the raw material producers, the converters, brand owners, retailers, consumers and recyclers - play their part in achieving a sustainable solution for post-consumer plastic packaging.

Watch PETCO’S video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUnXRY5f3ek