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South Africa beats Europe at plastics recycling, but also is a top 20 ocean polluter. Really?

MFA of plastics in SA

 

South Africa beats Europe at plastics recycling,
but also is a top 20 ocean polluter. Really?

 

Harro von Blottnitz, Takunda Chitaka, Clare Rodseth

Environmental & Process Systems Engineering Research Group, University of Cape Town

 

Recently released industry figures claim that South Africa recovers 43,7% of its plastic waste for recycling, outperforming Europe’s plastic recycling by a significant margin of 12,5%. This is in stark contrast to reported and observed plastics in the environment, with one global scientific study putting South Africa in the top 20 contributors to ocean plastics and estimating that 56% of plastic waste is poorly managed and prone to leakage into the environment.

 

If one adds up the 43,7% headline recycling rate and the 56% of plastic waste poorly managed, one would have to conclude that only 0,3% of plastic waste is properly disposed in landfill sites. Any visual of a South African landfill site would quickly dispel this view.

 

So it seems that not both of these claims can be true? With a government-mandated packaging industry waste management plan compiled in 2018 and under review, it’s important that a coherent factual basis underpin the debate and the forthcoming decisions leading to interventions. We take a look at what is known and how it is represented.

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