The environmental benefits of Cape Town recycling are infinite, but what most people don’t realise is that there are several economic advantages that result from a society that lives more consciously.

“The process from collection to creation of the recycled materials is intricate, and involves a range of different steps and service providers along the way. L&B recycling is the first step in a long product journey. Our experience through the years has shown us that we are part of a bigger economic picture with different role players, and it all begins with people who recycle,” said Brian Tommy, owner of L&B Recycling in Cape Town.

Cape Town Recycling and the Economy

Recycling is more than an activity that has a positive environmental impact, it is a viable business sector than creates jobs and generates billions for the economy annually. More specifically, the recycling industry generates just over R15.3 billion a year, which translates to 0.51% of gross domestic product (GDP). Honing in on the Western Cape particularly, the National Waste Information Baseline study estimated that 20% of the waste generated in South Africa was generated in the Western Cape, which makes the call for more co-operation with Cape Town recycling companies even more urgent.

Less Landfills. More Recycling.

There are extensive costs involved with using landfills as waste disposal mediums, not considering the large-scale environmental repercussions. A large part of this cost is comprised of the loss of valuable resources that results when recyclable goods end up in waste streams. The economically beneficial potential of recycling is far-reaching. Currently, South Africa generates waste with an estimated total resource value of R25.2-billion a year, with about 90% of all waste generated still sent to landfills. The goal is to reduce industrial waste by 20% and domestic waste by 60% by 2025, as stipulated by the Department of Science Technology.

Job Creation as an Economic Opportunity

One significant knock-on effect of the growth of the recycling economy is job creation. In 2011, there were between 200 and 220 plastics recycling manufacturers in South Africa. Jointly, these companies employ 4800 people, with 35 000 indirect jobs that have an annual payroll of R250 million, according to the South African Plastic Recycling organisation (Sapro). As the number of recycling companies and initiatives increase, so will the number of available jobs. These jobs include waste collection, sorting incoming recyclable goods, processing, shipping and waste transport. To capitalise on this much-needed potential, the National Waste Management Strategy includes a goal to establish a R9 billion job fund to support job creation in the waste sector while increasing investment in this lucrative arena.

Reducing Costs by Saving Energy

The cost of energy is also greatly reduced by Cape Town recycling. For example, when an aluminium can is recycled, it saves companies 95% of the energy that is required to produce cans from raw materials. In fact, the energy saved by this particular process can be used to run a TV set for three hours. The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle is enough to light a light bulb for four hours. Overall, the cost of keeping a recycling facility running is significantly lower than the cost of a waste management plant that requires the use of a landfill or incineration.

From Paper to Pulp: A Case Study

South Africa is the biggest producer of pulp and paper in Africa, producing about 2.4 million tons of pulp and 2.7 million tons of paper for consumption by both the country and the rest of the world. In fact, South Africa is ranked the 11th largest producer of pulp in the world. Inspite of these pulp and paper production capabilities, South Africa still imports significant amounts of all types of paper products. The cost of these imports can be greatly reduced if South Africa turned its focus inwards, towards our own recycling capacity as a nation. Currently, only about 57% of paper is being recycled, which means there is substantial room for growth. It’s about the bigger picture. More paper consumption means that South African raw materials are being used and ultimately depleted. What South Africa loses in raw materials, adds up to billions on local currency every year.

At the 2015 inaugural National Waste Summit held in Mpumalanga, it was acknowledged by South Africa’s leaders, that the waste management sector has viable economic opportunities that still need to be unlocked. The fact is that only 10% of generated waste in South Africa was being recycled at the time of the last study in 2011. We are a throwaway society – and that needs to change. It starts with Cape Town recycling – with each province doing its bit to contribute to the notion of a recycling economy.

Have thoughts on how recycling initiatives can benefit the greater economy?

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