Big jump in SA polystyrene recycling

18 November 2020 | Web Article Number: ME202021305

Construction, Civil & Structural Engineering
Green Industries & Renewable Energy
Packaging
Plastics & Rubber

POLYSTYRENE recycling in South Africa has increased by 19%, thanks to the tremendous growth in end-markets using post-consumer polystyrene, including home décor and construction.

According to the latest plastics recycling figures for the year ending December 2019, released recently by Plastics SA, South Africa’s plastics conversion rate shrunk by 1.8 %, so it was reassuring that polystyrene recycling had bucked this trend, said Adri Spangenberg, CEO of the Polystyrene Association of SA.

“South Africa experienced very difficult trading and manufacturing conditions in 2019. Factors such as the economic downturn, ongoing load shedding and the rising cost of electricity, fuel and labour had a particularly negative impact on the local recycling industry. Despite these deterring factors, we are very proud of the fact that we managed to increase our reprocessing of polystyrene to 6,653 tons last year,” Spangenberg said.

Big jump in SA polystyrene recycling

Both Expanded (EPS) and High-Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) have traditionally been classified as “plastics that are difficult to recycle”. Because the material is light-weight and often bulky, collection and transportation are challenging and can result in bottlenecks in the supply chain. To address this crucial logistics issue, the Polystyrene Association of SA began fulfilling the role of a facilitator in 2019.

By putting recyclers, collectors and suppliers of polystyrene in contact with each other, the various end-markets that use post-consumer, recycled polystyrene started to enjoy a more consistent supply of recyclate and were able to increase their capacity.

She said the country’s 39 recyclers of polystyrene reprocessed 3,699 tons of EPS (e.g. meat and fruit trays, hamburger shells, take-away cups and containers) between them. In cubic meters, this equates to an eight-story building which is 29m high or 3,237 shipping containers of 40-feet each

The décor market continued to be the largest end-market of EPS packaging materials, with 42 % of all the recycled material going into the manufacturing of items such as picture frames, curtain rods, skirtings and profiles.

Spangenberg said they saw a dramatic increase in demand for recycled polystyrene used in the building and construction industries and predicted that this was likely to develop into the biggest end-market during the next reporting period.

“Towards the end of 2019, recyclers such as Envirolite Concrete began expanding their operations around the country. Owing to the fact that they are able to use post-consumer EPS and HIPS in every colour or grade, and thanks to the convenient locations of their factories, we were able to direct more materials to them with shorter lead-times,” Spangenberg said.

These lightweight concrete bricks are made from recycled polystyrene coated with a special cement mixture. “Incredibly strong, waterproof, fireproof and offering excellent insulation properties, these bricks are increasingly being recognised by architects, property developers and building contractors as alternative green building materials that are environmentally safe and suitable for a variety of different building applications – ranging from low-cost housing projects to designer homes and even shopping malls.”

Spangenberg said the latest recycling figures show that the industry is truly committed to developing a sustainable, circular economy.

“We believe that polystyrene recycling is able to deliver a trifecta of solutions that address our country’s most pressing socio-economic problems, i.e. the need for housing, the need for employment and addressing the issue of plastic waste in the environment.

“South Africa has a unique set of challenges that require unique solutions. We have developed a mechanism for polystyrene collection and recycling that is unlike anything else in the world. With the buy-in and support from government, citizens and the rest of the industry, it has the potential to become a blueprint for other countries to follow.”

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