Ever wondered what happens to your plastic bottles after you’ve discarded them? Most of them are thrown into rubbish bins and end up in one of South Africa’s strained land fill sites. A more viable and environmentally friendly alternative is to deliver them to the plastics recovery stations at municipal drop-off centres, for recovery and recycling.
Alternatively, participate in your local separation at source project run by your municipality, or support your local school or community recycling project. Should none of these be on offer in your area, organise for your recyclables to be collected by an intermediate collector. A comprehensive list of drop of sites and other services are provided at www.mywaste.co.za.
PET Recycling Company (Pty) Ltd (PETCO) CEO, Cheri Scholtz, says the volumes of plastic waste, particularly bottles, fills up an unnecessary amount of landfill space.
“The plastic that these bottles are made from, polyethylene terephthalate or PET, is tough, resilient and 100% recyclable making it a vital technical nutrient in the production of new packaging and other end uses” she says.
The carbon footprint of plastic water bottles can be reduced by 25% if consumers recycle them. As far as carbon is concerned, recycling 1 tonne of PET saves 1.5 tons of CO². By recycling 50 280 tonnes of PET plastic beverage bottles in 2012, 75 420 tonnes of carbon and 311 736 cubic metres of landfill space was saved, that’s the same volume of just under 125 Olympic sized swimming pools.
Discarded PET bottles are collected, baled and delivered to the recycling plant where they are colour sorted, washed, granulated, re-washed, extruded (made into long thin strips of plastic) and cut into pellets, before being recycled into a number of items we encounter every day:
- fibre for polyester carpeting, shopping bags, ceiling insulation and geotextiles
- fabric for T-shirts, athletic shoes, luggage, upholstery and sweaters
- fibrefill for sleeping bags and winter coats
- industrial strapping, sheet and film
- automotive parts, such as luggage racks, headliners, fuse boxes, bumpers, grilles and door panels
- new PET containers for both food and non-food products.
For more information see ‘The Story of PET’ video, which is aimed at awareness raising and education around the ins and outs of the PET bottle recycling process:
Scholtz says going forward, PETCO would like to see more investment in Bottle to Bottle recycling, which is also known as closed loop recycling. This is where bottles are collected and reprocessed to enable them to be used again for bottles. Closed loop recycling is widely agreed to be one of the best forms of recycling and is a more sustainable approach to the use of resources.
“The key challenge is to collect this post-consumer PET before it gets to landfill. To facilitate this, PETCO has facilitated the establishment of drop-off points throughout the country for consumers to deliver their empty soft drink bottles to, we also support municipal separation at source projects and large scale collection projects” she says.
PETCO was formed in 2004 as the plastic industry’s first joint effort to self-regulate post-consumer PET recycling and is spearheading efforts to educate consumers about recycling bottles and encouraging them to be environmentally responsible by recycling them.
PETCO is an advocate of consumer awareness and it is exciting to see that brandowners and retailers are now including more information on packaging materials and recyclability thereof on their packs. In an industry first, Woolworths has initiated and introduced a new on-pack recycling label (OPRL), intended to assist recycling efforts by making it easier for customers to recycle correctly while stimulating the growth of the recycling sector.
The collection and recycling of post-consumer PET has grown from 9 840 to 50 520 tonnes of post-consumer PET bottles recycled or from 8 million bottles collected in the first year to over 1.5 billion bottles recycled in 2012.
“This would have been possible without the tremendous dedication of our members, whose contributions via the recycling levy and grants-in-aid, enable PETCO to expand its collection network, fine tune its programmes and strive for ever increasing recycling tonnages” says Scholtz.
“The waste sector has a responsibility and a role to play in addressing unemployment as it can create immediate opportunities for community-based, labour-intensive job-creation initiatives and it can absorb un-skilled or relatively low-skilled workers. Fortunately, our 30 Shareholder and 47 Associate Members have contributed to job creation and skills development and have generated almost 36 000 income opportunities, reducing poverty across South Africa,” adds Scholtz.
PETCO also has a strong focus on public and consumer-based education, and awareness programmes that contribute to the visible recycling of PET. As a thread through various projects there is an emphasis on providing the necessary support and training for collectors, co-operatives and municipalities. 2012 saw the team participate in 28 exhibitions, events and conferences, conducted 35 training workshops (independently and through PlasticsISA) and 16 clean-ups.
“We’ve grown our tonnage from 16% to 45% of post-consumer beverage PET in 2012. 2015 will be a milestone year, with PET recycling targets set at 50%, that’s half of all post-consumer PET bottles in the market. The realisation is that we will be recycling the same amount of bottles that will be landfilled,” says Scholtz.
The higher the targeted recycling rate, the more challenging it will be to collect more bottles, and PETCO is excited about the roll out of additional kerbside collection programmes and will be driving more collection programmes in years to come.
PETCO sees partnerships between municipalities, industry and retailers as key to upping collection and are proud to be a part of various initiatives aimed at strengthening these partnerships like the Western Cape Regulatory Impact Assessment, the ILO Enterprise Job Creation Challenge, ABI Schools Program and the City of Johannesburg Waste Reclaimers Empowerment Project being launched today.
PETCO will be releasing their 2013 results soon, so watch this space! For further information on drop-off sites or for more detail on PET recovery and recycling, visit the PETCO website at www.petco.co.za. Or, to see how many people realise that plastic bottles are not trash, see the recent flashmob on their Facebook page.