We all talk about recycling, but how does it actually work? We know that it starts with collecting the recyclable materials. And it’s cool to know that a certain product is made from recycled plastic. But what is exactly the process?
“Recycling plastics is not easy” says Philemon Sereme, General Manager of the South African Plastic Recyclers Association (SAPRO).
“There are many types of different plastic, each with a different polymer composition. You can’t always recycle them together.”
This means that the collected waste plastic must be separated for different types. Some types can’t be distinguished with the naked eye. Also, much of the plastic arrives contaminated, dirty from the waste streams.
Designing for recycling
“It is important that producers and brand owners design for recycling. The plastics that are used and the way those plastics are used, influence a lot on the ability to recycle them later.”
After separating and washing the plastic, it is grinded and turned into small pellets which are used as raw material in the plastics industry. That is the full cycle of recycling.
There are some 300 recyclers in South Africa. Out of these, SAPRO has 54 voluntary members, who pay a membership fee according to the volumes that they process.
“The recycling industry is not financially supported by government. There is no formal collection system. All the recycling that happens is driven by private initiative. Still, South Africa recycles 15.2% more of its post-consumer plastic waste than Europe.”
But how will we ever get to a situation of #ZeroWaste?
Sereme believes that we are moving in the right direction. “Slowly but surely. But we need more education. Everyone, from consumers, to retailers, to producers, they must understand how the cycle works. Producers must design for recycling. Retailers must rethink packaging. And consumers can help us by separating at source.
Together we must be able to recycle 100%!”