South Africans have heard the “please recycle” message time and time again. However, with National Recycling Day around the corner, it is a crucial opportunity for citizens to truly reflect on their waste habits and become more conscious of the impact of waste that is so often thrown away on a whim. Leading up to National Recycling Day on 20 September 2019, leading South African recycler, Mpact Recycling is encouraging the country to start interrogating their waste by asking themselves #AreYouGoingToRecycleThat.
Every time a recyclable item of waste gets put into your general dustbin rather than being sorted for recycling, municipal transport costs to and from the landfill are incurred. However, when it comes to recycling, it is not all doom and gloom. In fact, South Africa’s paper recovery rate is well above the global average of 59.3% (ICFPA, 2019 Sustainability Progress Report). Over the past 10 years, more than 11.3 million tonnes of paper and paper packaging have been recovered for recycling locally. If baled, this amount would cover the surface of 2 055 soccer fields, one metre deep. On the plastic front, the recycling rates for PET bottles, for example, your fizzy drinks and water bottles, has improved over the years. South Africa currently recycles around 67% of all plastic PET bottles produced – up from 55% in 2016. South Africa is therefore ahead of international standards and is currently a recycling world-leader.
According to RecyclePaperZA, the paper recycling arm of PAMSA, 1.29 million tonnes of paper and paper packaging was diverted from landfills in 2018. However, according to Plastics SA, approximately 70% of the plastic that was recycled in South Africa had to first be sorted from a landfill in 2018. This illustrates that it is far better for waste to be sorted at the source, your home.
South Africa’s recycling infrastructure has developed to make it as easy as possible to #SeparateAtSource as certain recyclable materials can be grouped together. This is called “multi-recycling” and simply means separating all your recyclables from your general waste. In fact, all your paper-based recyclables can go in one clear refuse bag, making recycling accessible and easy. So, before you throw away your cereal boxes, milk and juice cartons, toilet rolls, cardboard, newspapers or magazines, interrogate your waste and ask yourself #AreYouGoingToRecycleThat. The balance of your recyclables such as glass, plastic and cans can be placed in a separate bag, purely because they often carry liquid which can contaminate paper and cardboard.
“How recycling is collected differs from community to community. There might be a formal recycling collector, kerbside collectors who service particular residential areas, or local community collection points such as schools, retirement villages or shopping malls,” says John Hunt, Managing Director of Mpact Recycling.
Good recycling practices can also contribute to economic growth and job creation, and reduce social and environmental costs. This in turn positively impacts the circular economy which refers to waste items being re-used or recycled, to be made into something new in an effort to eliminate waste reaching landfills. According to a 2015 report by the CSIR, just 10% of waste in South Africa was being recycled. Impressively, this small percentage still contributed R8.2 billion worth of resources into the South African economy. Today, the CSIR estimates that the recycling industry provides income opportunities for around 60 000 – 90 000 waste pickers alone.
“Understanding the ways recycling works in your community, and the significant implications of not recycling, is a great way to start making your own positive impact on the volume of waste on South African landfills,” says Hunt.
Big change can start with small actions, right in your home. Think about every piece of waste you throw into your dustbin and ask yourself #AreYouGoingToRecycleThat. Then, once you know how easy it is to #SeparateAtSource, you can find out how recycling collection works in your community.
Visit www.mpactrecycling.co.za to see where their programmes run, or look at your community’s social media pages to find out what recycling initiatives are happening in your area.