• Waste not, want not

    Recycling is not only crucial in that it protects the environment, it’s also a great opportunity for job creation.

    Waste not, want not

    The National Waste Management Strategy aims to see all South African households in major centres separating household waste for recycling by 2016.

    However, a survey conducted a few years ago by the CSIR indicates that most households do not know how or what to recycle, or where to dispose of their recyclables.

    Another CSIR study revealed that as much as 25% of municipal waste generated in South Africa comprises main-line recyclables such as glass, paper, tins and plastics. The disposal of these compromises the lifespan of the landfills, many of which are running out of space.

    Mpact is a leading manufacturer of paper and plastics packaging in Southern Africa, with the paper business comprising three divisions: recycling, paper manufacturing, and corrugated and converted paper products.

    Mpact Recycling MD John Hunt says: ‘Mpact Recycling creates a demand for recycled material that enables recycling where it might not otherwise have been possible. The result is a mutually beneficial relationship that benefits the environment and leads to the creation of small to medium enterprises.’

    The company collects around 450 000 tons of recovered paper each year, and the recovered fibre is supplied to its paper mills for processing into recycled-based cartonboard and containerboard – for sale to South Africa’s packaging industry.

    Hunt is adamant that everyone should be sorting household, school and office waste into paper, plastic, glass, cans and other.

    ‘This can easily be done by having different coloured or marked containers and by sorting each day as these items are discarded,’ he says. Paper consumed in homes, schools and offices represents the biggest opportunity to grow paper recycling in South Africa.

    The country’s official glass recycling rate is 40.9%, which means that close to 41% of all waste glass that could potentially be recycled annually is being recovered. It is primarily because of the efforts, investment and infrastructure put in place by glass manufacturers, the Glass Recycling Company and glass collectors that these figures are this high.

    According to Bruce Williams, group recycling manager for Consol Glass, South Africa’s largest glass manufacturer, the company purchases approximately 240 000 tons of waste glass per year. ‘Of that, we are able to use about 200 000 tons in our furnaces. The rest is discarded, at a cost, as it is unsuitable and risky,’ he says.

    ‘What used to be regarded as “waste” can be turned into a resource and reintroduced into the economy’

    Despite this, Williams believes the country could be doing a lot better when it comes to recycling, regardless of the material in question. ‘There is no official or enforced recycling in South Africa, and currently it is purely voluntary. If you’re not in the business of recycling, or doing it for a living, you have to make the effort yourself to recycle. Also, there is little-to-no infrastructure,’ he says.

    ‘We need kerb-side collection and separation at source [household and business levels]. There are two waste streams: waste for landfill and recyclable waste. Once separation at source becomes the norm, it will change the face of recycling for all recyclables. But this is only going to happen when recycling is legislated and enforced.’

    ‘Currently, only 10% of waste in South Africa is recycled,’ says Stacey Davidson, director at the Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of South Africa (Redisa).

     ‘As the population grows, so the increase of waste generated highlights the inadequate nature of existing waste-management services, leading to an increasingly polluted environment. The onus is on leaders to address systemic structural changes that can boost investment, and create an environment in which business and entrepreneurs can thrive.

    ‘One of the ways we can fast-track this process is by creating “circular economies”. On a planet of finite resources, the circular economy is not optional – it is inevitable. Its implementation will provide world economies with unprecedented opportunities, through the creation of reverse logistics networks, new processes and new industries using the recovered resources.

    ‘For example, in the tyre industry, it means re-using and recycling existing materials and products. In other words, what used to be regarded as “waste” can be turned into a resource and reintroduced into the economy.’

    Remade Recycling, established in 1987, is the largest independently owned operator and trader of recyclable material in South Africa, and collects and trades in multiple recyclable waste streams.

    ‘We focus on buying and accumulating large volumes of recyclable material, sorting it, baling it and selling it as a raw material input source to South Africa’s leading recycling manufacturers,’ says Michella Hattingh, Remade’s group marketing and PR manager.

    She believes that South Africans are ‘notoriously bad at recycling’. In her opinion, the reasons for this are threefold, and come down to recycling not being part of people’s life-styles, a lack of drop-off facilities and buy-back centres, and general idleness.

    ‘South Africans are lazy when it comes to sorting their waste, so it’s easier to just throw it away and let the hawkers sort it,’ she says.

    That said, she does believe recycling is gaining popularity, as more people become aware of the need to preserve the environment, together with the realisation by some that a monetary value has been placed on recyclable waste.

    ‘Where there is determination and passion, the opportunities for recycling are endless,’ she says.In fact, Remade encourages individuals to pursue recycling as a viable source of income generation. ‘Entrepreneurs wanting to start their own business and who show dedication to their operation can approach Remade with a business plan and applications for specific assistance,’ says Hattingh.

    ‘In the past, Remade has supplied baling machines, collection equipment and other equipment to entrepreneurs who actively contribute to the supply chain.’

    When asked whether South Africa’s more successful recycling initiatives can be applied elsewhere in Southern Africa, Williams answers that this is not easily done.

    ‘There is a high infrastructure of returnable glass in Southern Africa. Because of this, well over 1 million tons of glass is diverted from landfills a year’

    ‘For glass, unless there’s a glass industry in the country, there’s no outlet for recycling. It’s not easy to sell glass unless you are in a country with its own glass-manufacturing industry. Our close neighbours don’t have such industries and have to transport the glass to us, which costs them,’ he says.

    ‘But that said, there is the reusability factor to consider. While these countries don’t have glass plants and therefore a market for the waste glass, they don’t have much of it to begin with because they use returnable glass. South Africa is at the forefront of reusability and the management of returnable glass floats. On the one hand, there aren’t many glass recycling opportunities outside of South Africa, but there is a high infrastructure of returnable glass in Southern Africa. Because of this [returnable glass], well over 1 million tons of glass is diverted from landfills a year.’

    The Mpact Group has 32 operations across South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. On whether successful recycling initiatives can be applied elsewhere in Southern Africa, Hunt says: ‘Already in other parts of Southern Africa, such as Lesotho and Botswana, successful recycling initiatives are being replicated. Mpact Recycling, which has branches countrywide, sees itself as a partner that enables recycling, be it through schools and communities with the Ronnie Banks countrywide, or buy-back centres, or even the small businesses in which we are involved. The key is sustainability and ensuring these businesses are around for years to come.’

    Hattingh believes replicating recycling initiatives is not all that simple. ‘There is a great need for recycling in Africa as well as a desire to become involved,’ she says.

    ‘A great deal of financial investment is required in order to establish a successful and viable recycling operation. Africa simply does not have the capital resources.

    ‘Therefore, unless offshore or large corporate investment and funding is received, recycling cannot succeed. Unfortunately everyone wants to get rich from recycling but there is a very small profit margin involved in recycling, and this is the greatest barrier to sustainable and long-term operations.’

    By Toni Muir
    Image: Sven Torfinn/Panos