ENVIRONMENT: PET Recycling Numbers Rocket
Recent Western Cape Business News
Established in 2004 with the mission to minimize the environmental impact that post consumer PET has on the SA landscape, PET plastic recycling has since grown from 9 840 tons in 2004 to 37 842 tons in 2010. Today 3 million PET bottles are recycled each day. These recycling rates have been achieved in partnership with contracted service providers Extrupet, Kaymac and Sen Li Da who combine collection, recycling and end-use in their PET value chain.
South African PET recycling is fortunate in that almost all of the post consumer PET bottles collected are recycled into a local end-use (mainly fibre and more recently bottle-2-foodgrade) and not exported to China, as is done by many other countries. This means that as more and more post consumer PET bottles are collected, so end-use markets need to expand and develop. The largest end-use market for post consumer PET bottles in South African is currently the fibre market (bottle to fibre). More recently, there is installed capacity for post consumer PET bottles, to be recycled into new PET containers (bottle-2-foodgrade). B2FG resin take-up is, however, still relatively slow and PETCO is working with retailers and brand owners to increase the demand for PET recyclate.
Discarded post consumer PET bottles are collected, baled and delivered to the recycler, and, unfortunately too many of these are still collected from landfill. In the recycling plant, bottle tops are removed (they are made from PP – polypropylene) and the bottles are inspected and sorted according to colour. Any bottles that are not made of PET are removed.
The sorted bottles are then granulated into flakes, which go through numerous hot and cold washes and eventually end up in a flotation basin to separate the remaining non-PET material. PET has a higher density than other plastics (except for PVC) and it will sink while the other materials e.g. paper from labels, will rise to the top and float.
These flakes are then dried and extruded into pellets. The finished product takes the form of small clear pellets which are supplied to end-users for production into a number of items we encounter every day: fibre for polyester carpet; fabric for T-shirts and most importantly back into new PET containers for both food and non-food products. The venture has created over 18 000 jobs in the informal collector segment.
PETCO also supports projects with a strong focus on public and consumer based education and awareness programmes and these initiatives and activities contributed to the visible recycling of PET. Many of these programmes, such as beach clean-ups, trade shows, bailing equipment, bulk bag collection and training are initiated together with support from the Plastics I SA. Workshops for members, on topics such as designing PET bottles and containers with recycling in mind to reduce contamination, are hosted by PETCO around South Africa.
Together with major retailers Woolworths and Pick ‘n Pay, PETCO has established the ‘Retailers for Recycling Forum’ which aims to minimize the environmental impact of post consumer packaging on the South African landscape by creating awareness amongst consumers of recycling issues and supporting retailers as they work with their own suppliers to ensure that packaging is designed with reduction, re-use and recycling in mind.
PETCO hopes this will include all retailers and also all packaging materials as it unfolds. Recently Polypet won the ‘Best Recycled product of the year competition’ hosted by The South African Recycling Organisation (SAPRO) for their 1.5 litre recycled PET (rPET) juice bottle that is sold at Woolworths.
“This bottle is an excellent example of how major retailers can influence an industry when they make a commitment towards environmental responsibility and sustainability”, adds Cheri Scholtz, chairperson of Plastics SA’s Sustainability Council and CEO of PETCO. “In 2010 alone, 99 400 tons of PET was used in beverage bottles.”
“Through collective effort and a united vision of reducing our impact on the environment, we were able to achieve the most sustainable use for resources, namely the ability to “close the loop” – recycling a bottle back into a bottle – and creating a vital new end-use market for the 3 million PET bottles currently being recycled daily in South Africa”, Scholtz says. By using rPET in the Woolworth’s 1.5 litre juice bottle, it paves the way for other brand owners and converters to utilise the growing percentage of recycled post-consumer PET bottles available in our country instead of relying on virgin PET”, she says.
Recycling one ton of PET plastic bottles saves 1.5 ton of carbon. It also decreases the need for raw materials and saves energy. And recycling a single plastic bottle can conserve enough energy to light a 60W light bulb for up to six hours. PETCO is working with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and stiff collection targets for 2015 have already been set. The aim is for the public and private sector to put a cost- effective separation at source strategy in place.
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