The South African National Bottled Water Association (SANBWA) is urging South Africans to put recycling onto their holiday agenda. SANBWA technical manager, Charlotte Metcalf, says organisations such as Petco as well as SANBWA members – together with the South African public – have made considerable strides in recycling plastic products, but they must not rest on their laurels during the December holidays.
According to latest Plastics SA figures, of the 573 000 tons of plastic used in the country in 2009, some 165 772 tons – or 28.9% – was recycled. This is up from 19.7% in 2000 when 90 457 tons of a total 460 000 tons was recycled.
Even more impressive is the recycle rate for PET, the plastic used to make beverage bottles like those used by the bottled water industry. Petco’s latest figures highlight that 40% of all post-consumer PET bottles consumed in South Africa are recycled. The target for 2015 is 50%.
South Africa currently recycles three million bottles daily, and the recycling process of these bottles and other plastic manufacturing activities provide employment to more than 65 000 people. South Africa also does not export its PET bottles for recycling (as is the case in many other countries), instead the bottles are mechanically recycled into fibre filling for duvets, pillows, fleece jackets, automotive parts, insulation, geotextiles and most, importantly back into food grade packaging, thereby closing the loop.
“Apart from creating jobs in waste management, recycling reduces the country’s dependence on importing raw materials for plastic manufacturing, shrinks the carbon footprint and ensures that used plastic bottles don’t end up in landfills,” said Metcalf.
“It is heartening to see the increase in recycling for plastic across the board,” she said “and all involved are to be congratulated. However, as an industry body, SANBWA is most interested in the PET plastic bottle recycling rate, and so we’d like to urge all South Africans who choose to drink bottled beverages on the beach, while travelling or hiking, in restaurants or at home, to make certain the empty bottle is discarded in the recycling bin.”
Asked to comment on the sustainability of bottled water production in South Africa, Metcalf said it is very water efficient business in that it has an extremely low ‘water usage’ factor compared to other food and beverages.
“The term ‘water usage’ refers to how much water by volume is used to make a finished product. This measure – sometimes called ‘water footprint’ – includes both direct and indirect water usage. In the bottled water industry, that would be water for rinsing and sanitising bottles, plant and general cleaning and sanitation, vehicle washing, floor washing, toilets and so on, and includes water from boreholes and municipal source,” she said.
“The South African industry benchmark is 1.8:1, and there are plants that achieve ratios of as low as 1.3 – 1.4 by recycling their bottle rinse water. This industry average equates to 22.7 litres/second but, before you dismiss it as high, consider that a golf course uses 1 litre/second per hole or 18 litres/second for an 18-hole golf course, so the bottled water industry’s annual use is equivalent to that of one and a half golf courses.
“Water — in all its forms — is a vital component of the human diet, as well as the healthiest beverage option for societies plagued by diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Also, bottled water is the best packaged beverage option for the environment; it has the lightest environmental footprint of all packaged beverages — granted one that can be reduced immediately by 25% if consumers were to simply recycle the bottle.
“Give South Africa a Christmas present this year: don’t trash your PET plastic – recycle it!” said Metcalf.