South Africa’s official organisation for promoting glass recycling, The Glass Recycling Company (TGRC), recycled more than 330 000 t of nonreturnable bottles and jars in its last fiscal year and, therefore, it contributed significantly to 79% of all yearly glass consumption in South Africa being diverted from landfills, the organisation tells Engineering News.
“TGRC wishes to increase this number significantly,” says TGRC CEO Shabeer Jhetam, adding that South Africa has been recycling glass over the last 15 years, with the glass industry saving 113 000 t of carbon emissions last year as a result of recycling.
“As a country, we produce about one- million tons of glass a year, while we use over two-million tons of glass, predominantly beer bottles, which is returnable. South Africa consumes about 3.1-million tons of glass a year, but 2.1-million tons of this glass is reusable, meaning it will not end up in landfill sites,” he says.
However, not every bottle is returnable, owing to consumer choice and preference. Further, people in the higher-income bracket are less likely to return a glass bottle for recycling at R1.50 a bottle.
“Although higher-income earners have become slightly less apathetic over time, their interest in recycling is not at an acceptable level,” says Jhetam.
He adds that people find recycling inconvenient. “TGRC has placed bins in highly accessible areas to facilitate [recycling],” he says, adding that it is a matter of changing mindsets, which is regrettably difficult and will take time.
TGRC, which is a joint venture industry initiative by the only two glass packaging manufacturers in South Africa, Consol and Nampak Glass, highlights that more than one-million bottles a day are recycled in South Africa, mostly by those in the lower-income bracket.
“This group is likely to recycle more actively, owing to the financial benefits that recycling presents, such as cash-back incentives when collecting and dropping off glass bottles,” adds Jhetam.
TGRC’s business model is based on two fundamentals – marketing and communications and capacity building.
For the higher-income bracket, the organisation has placed more than 2 500 glass banks in easily accessible locations around the country. “However, this group could contribute more to the recycling initiative,” says the organisation.
For the lower-income bracket, TGRC offers capacity building. “We provide glass recycling infrastructure, such as bins, drums and safety equipment to buy-back centres, which enables people who are generally unemployed to collect glass and sell it to these buy-back centres,” Jhetam says, adding that, in the last seven years, the organisation has supported 1 875 glass-collector entrepreneurs nationally, more than 80% of whom are historically disadvantaged people.
“Many of the people who collect glass using trolleys do not have an income and we have created a national footprint of entrepreneurs to ensure that these people can deliver recyclable materials to recycling centres easily without walking long dis- tances,” he notes.
TGRC highlights that another reason why the lower-income group contributes as much as it does to recycling is that it has a communal mindset and, therefore, is culturally inclined to participate more in social issues.
Entrepreneurs are taught by TGRC how to run a business. “We do this by offering training courses that, in the long term, promote sustain- ability not only in their lives but also in the industry,” says Jhetam.
The training covers financial and business management skills, as well as logistics.
“We have regional development offices that coordinate the entrepreneurs and visit them regularly,” he notes, adding that mentoring and coaching entrepreneurs forms a significant part of the organi- sation,” he adds.
There are about 40 000 people in the country supplying glass to centres for recycling he highlights, noting that TGRC aims to increase this number significantly in the coming years.
“People generally feel that recycling will not make a difference, but TGRC is certain that if everyone contributes, it will have a massive positive impact on the environment,” Jhetam says.
Global Recycling Standards
“Recycling has come a long way in South Africa. We do not compare badly with international recycling countries,” says Jhetam.
He highlights that South Africa’s recycling rate is just above 40%. “This will rise slightly, as we are finalising the recycling rate for our last fiscal,” adds Jhetam.
TGRC notes that the country with the highest recycling rate in Europe is Belgium at 98.4%, owing to legislation being in place. “The European Union Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive is supported by government and industry, and fines people who and industry members which do not recycle,” says Jhetam, adding that the adoption of similar legislation in South Africa is important if it is to improve its recycling rate.
The South African Waste Management Act, which came into effect in 2008, promotes separation at source.
TGRC says this is because when industry or individual households separate waste, the recycling process becomes much more manageable for waste collectors.
“As part of the paper and packaging industry, we have been requested to provide government with a waste management plan, which the packaging and paper industry has submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs. We are awaiting feedback and are anxious to see how government will implement and maintain the proposed waste management plan,” says Jhetam.
The organisation highlights that South Africa employs world-class technology that does not require glass to be separated into its three primary colours – flint, amber and brown.
“Mixed glass enters the glass bank and optical sorting machines sort the glass into the three primary colours,” says Jhetam, adding that this Austrian technology is used by Nampak Glass and Consol.
He highlights that there are a lot of countries where people still have to physically sort glass into the three colours. “This separation technology was implemented by Consol in 2006, while Nampak implemented it in 2009.
Further, South Africa uses one of the most sophisticated returnable systems in the world. “Eighty percent of beer in South Africa is sold in returnable bottles,” says Jhetam, adding that this prevents a significant amount of glass from going to landfill sites or entering the recycling cycle up to the point where it must be sorted.
TGRC highlights that it is targeting various parts of the public sector to increase awareness of recycling.
“We are targeting the youth and have set up a school recycling competition in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal in a bid to inspire up- and-coming business leaders to take responsibility for recycling,” says Jhetam.
He explains that the competition has resulted in about 200 schools participating, with 200 000 kg of glass having been collected since the competition’s inception in January.
“We have developed an educational workbook and DVD which are given to edu- cators to help them teach learners about the benefits of recycling,” he says, adding that TGRC also sends trained individuals to schools to give talks about recycling.
The organisation is also targeting South Africa’s hospitality industry, as it can potentially make a large impact on the percentage of glass that is recycled.
Meanwhile, food and beverage companies who are share- holders of TGRC pay a voluntary levy for every ton of glass they buy from manufacturers.
“These levies are used to fund TGRC, therefore, encouraging companies to buy recycled-glass packaging,” concludes Jhetam.