South Africans have long become familiar with the call to recycle their waste. This has become ever more apparent as people worked from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, as the waste that was normally generated in the office parks and business operations is now being generated and piling up at home.
But, with National Recycling Day approaching on 17 September, what practical measures can people take this year to really make a difference?
Although National Recycling Day works to raise awareness about the issue, and to encourage and galvanise people to take action, recycling shouldn’t be confined to just one day a year,” says John Hunt, Managing Director at Mpact Recycling, the leading recycler in South Africa. “Recycling can be a part of everyday life, and a little effort goes a long way in making a real difference.”
As a country we boast some strong recycling rates. According to RecyclePaperZA In 2020 1.1 million tonnes of paper and paper packaging were recovered for recycling into new products making the paper recycling rate just short of 70%.
Over the past 15 years, a total of 19 million tonnes of paper and paper packaging has been diverted from landfill through paper recovery and recycling.
At its core, recycling means the mechanical or chemical process of converting recyclable waste into reusable material. In practical terms, it means finding ways in which to use resources such as paper, plastic and glass multiple times over, instead of letting them end up in a landfill.
“We encourage people to take the time to learn what materials can be recycled, as many different forms of packaging are actually recycled right here in South Africa,” continues Hunt. “We are currently sitting with a shortage of recyclable waste that can be used in the supply chain to create new products, due to a number of factors over the last two years including the Covid-19 pandemic, the recession before that and now consumers just not having the disposable income to buy things.”
“The drop in consumer spending, coupled with the ban in alcohol sales, for example, saw a steep decline in the volume of glass that was recycled,” he says. “65% of glass collection comes in through collectors and buy-back centres who earn a living from their hauls, meaning that their livelihoods were directly impacted.”
“It’s important to also know the difference between recyclable materials and those that are biodegradable or compostable,” he says. “Many people justify dumping the latter since the perception is that it will simply disappear and break down into natural elements. This isn’t always the case, and in many instances, it can also contaminate the recycling waste stream.”
The benefits are not just that recycling ensures waste doesn’t go to landfill, benefitting the environment, but also that it can create jobs – essential in an economy such as South Africa’s where unemployment rates continue to rise at an alarming rate. It is not just about recycling, but rebuilding too.
According to a report by the CSIR, waste in South Africa has contributed R8.2 billion worth of resources into the South African economy. The CSIR estimates that the recycling industry provides income opportunities for between 60 000 to 90 000 waste pickers alone. Recycling is not just a matter of recovering recyclable material, it’s a total economic system.
Mpact is leading the way towards a circular economy in South Africa. A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative by intention and design. For Mpact’s products, this means that what cannot be reused should be collected, recycled and made into new products. It is good business that benefits the environment, the economy and the world.
There are a number of ways for people to get involved and become part of this circular economy. Households separating their own recyclables from everyday refuse is the most efficient. Giving these recyclables to your local collector, or dropping them off at your local shopping centre is an option. There are also pick-up programmes via schools, communities and offices which not only raise recycling awareness and create income opportunities for these institutions, but push recycling levels to new heights.
A good example of how a circular economy operates is the life cycle of one of the most frequently used materials in the world, cardboard. It begins with separation at home or at the office. The used cardboard is then collected or dropped off at a recycling depot. From here, it is transported to buy back centres or dealers. They in turn deliver the cardboard to Mpact paper mills where it is broken down into pulp. Once the pulp has been cleaned, it is mixed with fibre and made into recycled cardboard, which is then used by packaging manufacturers. Retailers then use the packaging for their products, which are then sold to the consumer.
“It is really important that people keep their recyclables clean, which means keeping them out of the normal bin and away from wet waste. When they are dirty, or contaminated with food or other waste, they cannot be recycled,” says Hunt.
“It’s important that this waste doesn’t just end up in a landfill. When recycled properly as part of a circular economy, it not only benefits the environment, but people’s livelihoods too,” says Hunt. “Let’s invest in a better South Africa together.”
There is so much jargon that surrounds recycling that many people find confusing and misleading. However, once this jargon is understood, it is easier to work out how recycling can be part of everyday lives.
The mechanical or chemical process of converting waste into reusable material.
The act of separating out recyclables such as cardboard, plastic bottles, glass, paper, cans etc. from everyday refuse that would otherwise go into a rubbish bin, and ultimately destined for landfill.
When the consumer reuses the packaging within the home environment for a new applica¬tion, e.g. storing grains in a tub previously used to package ice-cream.
Similar to re-purposing except that the value of the product is added to by it being made into something else, such as using straws, newspapers and sweet wrappers to make a kite.
The product has been collected, baled and recycled.
The opposite of a linear economy, which indicates that waste moves in a linear way towards landfill; as opposed to moving through the value chain and being made into new items. An example is a cardboard box being made into a new paper reel and then, ultimately, a new cardboard box,
A person who collects waste for recycling. They do an invaluable job because they ensure the recyclables don’t end up going to landfill. Whilst most consumers may think of collectors as the people who collect around refuse day, it can extend to schools, communities and small businesses who also collect waste for recycling and get reimbursed for it.
In the recycling value chain, this is the collection sites or recycling operations where a lot of the loose material comes in, gets sorted, baled and then sent onto the relevant recycler or paper mill.
As the leading waste collector in South Africa, Mpact Recycling, part of the Mpact Group collects and receives approximately 500,000 tonnes of recyclables per annum. This includes recovered paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and cans.
All recovered paper material is supplied to the Mpact paper mills to be manufactured back into paper. This is then used to manufacture innovative board products, which are sold to the South African packaging industry. Other collected materials are sold to other recycling industry partners for processing into products and packaging.
Mpact Recycling has 14 of its own operations in major centres nationwide and has partnered with over 40 buy-back centres who supply their waste paper and plastic to Mpact Recycling for remuneration; as well as working with numerous suppliers countrywide. Thus giving Mpact Recycling a national footprint. The recycling footprint doesn't end there, Mpact Recycling also acquired Remade in 2016.
Mpact Recycling runs numerous pick-up programmes via schools, communities, and offices. Not only do these initiatives raise recycling awareness and create income opportunities but push recycling levels to new heights.
It is part of Mpact Recycling’s mission to develop practical, economically viable and environmentally sustainable solutions that bring the world closer to a true circular economy.
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