South Africa leading the African circular plastics industry

Population growth rates are over 2% per year and the consequent increase in consumption of plastic packaging makes this the largest fraction of waste after organic, which brings more urgency to the waste management challenges.

Most of Africa’s population has no access to kerbside collection nor a formal waste collection system and relies heavily on waste pickers in the informal sector for waste collection and sorting. According to industry estimates 90% of waste still ends up in landfill or illegal dumping sites, some even burned in the open.

Thirty-four African governments have implemented or are planning to implement different types of plastic bans, many of these targeting plastic bags, to tackle the rise in plastic waste generation.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) initiatives in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria are also encouraging, with the most recent EPR scheme being implemented in South Africa applied to all companies importing or manufacturing plastic packaging for distribution from 5 May 2021. Particular to the region, brands have often taken action and led these types of bans and EPR schemes.

Recycled content targets for plastic packaging set by legislation in other regions, coupled with consumer pressure, have pushed brands who operate in multiple regions to set sustainability pledges at a global level.

Now, these Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) brands are also looking for supplies of high-quality recycled plastic in Africa, particularly for polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) packaging.

The ICIS Mechanical Recycling Supply Tracker has identified just under 50 mechanical plastic recycling plants for PET, PE and PP in the African region with a total capacity of over 370,000 tonnes/year for post-consumer and post-industrial waste feedstocks. 55% of the recycling capacity is allocated to recycling PET, and the majority of the polyolefin recycling capacity is allocated to PE. However, in 2020, production of recycled PET, PE and PP represented only 3% of total virgin and recycled PET, PE and PP consumption in the region.