Plastic is one of man’s most utilised materials today. It is strong, durable, cost effective and easy to manufacture, so can be used for many different purposes. However it takes centuries to decompose and it floats. Millions of tonnes making its way into water systems, often after a single use.
In South Africa, recycled PET (rPET) can be used to make many new products, such as polyester staple fiber used for apparel (clothing), home textiles (duvets, pillows, carpeting), automotive parts (carpets, sound insulation, boot linings, seat covers), industrial end-use items (geotextiles and roof insulation), strapping, fruit carton corner pieces, and new PET packaging and bottles for both food and non-food products. It is generally blended in a ratio of virgin to recycled PET, depending on the application required.
PETCO is South Africa’s national industry body accountable for managing the PET plastic industry’s Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Funded by a voluntary fee, PETCO’s mission is to grow the collection and recycling of PET bottles, after consumer use, on behalf of their members, by financing PET recyclers who buy baled bottles, process them and manufacture feedstock for sale into the manufacturing sector. They also invest in training and skills development projects to grow and expand collection across the country.
PET bottle recycling in South Africa is doing well. Annual PET plastic bottle recycling increased to 65% of bottles produced in the country in 2017 – up from 55% in 2016. This equates to 2.15 billion bottles recycled, creating 64 000 income-generating opportunities for waste collectors, while freeing up 578 000m3 of dwindling landfill space. Cheri Scholtz, CEO of PETCO, says although 2017 saw a 13% fall in the total PET market, PET recycling tonnage grew by 3%. Scholtz says these figures put South African PET recycling on par with global standards, with the organisation setting an ambitious recycling target of 70% by 2020.
Fair Trade Tourism (FTT) is also concerned about the plastics issue as the tourism industry relies on the integrity and beauty of our natural environment. It is central to FTT’s mission to support initiatives that safeguard the environment and minimise the damage caused by the tourism industry. Until new technologies emerge, we have both the responsibility and opportunity to minimise our impact through the best possible waste management methods.
In 2018, a partnership between PETCO and FTT was established with the aim of bringing real solutions to the tourism industry and using their networks to bring people together to make a greater impact on the waste crisis. PETCO also wanted to highlight how important PET plastic recycling is, and how they play a valuable role in keeping PET plastic within the value chain, reducing the need to create more plastic, and creating opportunities for waste entrepreneurs around the country.
This partnership brought to life a series of workshops for 2018 and 2019 for the South African tourism sector focusing on plastic waste solutions. These workshops were titled “No time to waste” and provided the opportunity for PETCO to hear from tourism businesses about their recycling challenges and help with tangible solutions.
The aims of these workshops were two-fold:
- To workshop practical, simple and cost effective ideas on how to reduce your impact through responsible waste management, right from purchase through to disposal
- To Identify plastic waste problems in the areas in which the workshops were taking place.
The workshops aimed at helping to solve the plastic waste crisis, as well as provide holistic waste management training from the Fair Trade Tourism sustainability toolkit – illustrating how to rethink, reduce, repurpose, recycle, compost and responsibly dispose of waste. PETCO intended that through discussion of issues and collaboration with tourism businesses a meaningful difference could be made to waste management systems. Also that tangible solutions could be provided to the tourism industry. Lastly to ensure that every PET bottle used in the tourism sector is recycled.
The most recent “No time to waste” workshop took place in Hoedspruit in February, where residents were invited to specific waste management training aimed at tourism businesses and to propose plastic recycling solutions for Hoedspruit and the Greater Kruger Park.
Keep an eye out for the next workshop and for other initiatives from the partnership!