The latest declared glass recycling rate in South Africa is now, according to The Glass Recycling Company (TGRC), 40.1%; a 230% growth in annual volumes recycled since the inception of TGRC six years ago. Evidence of a shift in consumer behaviour, between July 2011 and June 2012, shows that over 338 000 t of post-consumer waste glass was diverted from landfill, saving raw materials and cutting carbon emissions.

TGRC, South Africa’s official non-profit organisation mandated to increase glass recycling facilities and to educate South Africans through marketing and communication campaigns, reported these positive figures at its annual AGM for the 2011/2012 fiscal held on 13 March 2013.

“The glass recycling process saves more than one hundred thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year and with South Africa’s climate change obligations, the reduction of emissions and the ability of glass packaging to deliver truly sustainable environmental benefits should not be downplayed. Glass recycling is an important sustainability measure and is making a difference in addressing environmental impacts,” said Shabeer Jhetam, CEO of TGRC.

Comparatively speaking

Interestingly, South Africa fares well when compared to international recycling rates. In the UK it took seven years to reach a national recycling rate of 41%; a figure achieved with the aid of compulsory legislation. Locally, it took just six years to reach the equivalent milestone without any enforced recycling legislation in place, although separation at source is imminent and will positively impact on recycling rates.

“Brazil, a developing nation South Africa is frequently compared with, has been recycling glass for over 20 years and yet its rate is at 47%, a mere 6.9% ahead of ours. In Australia, glass recycling rates are a comfortable 49%; Eastern Europe has plateaued at 45%; while the US is only at 34%. This, coupled with the fact that South Africa has the best recycling rate in Africa, provides a clear indication and confirms the inroads that we have made into South Africa’s integration of glass recycling as a sustainability measure,” stated Jhetam. “In addition, South Africa has a sophisticated returnable system in place for certain glass bottles, which negates the need for the production of an additional two million tonnes of glass during the year. This would bring South Africa’s production of glass to a total of three million tonnes. As a result of the growing recycling rates and the returnable system, approximately 2.4 million tonnes of glass have been diverted from landfill for the fiscal.”

Entrepreneurial focus

TGRC is not just responsible for growing glass recycling, but also committed to job creation in both the formal and informal sectors; an undertaking achieved through the establishment of entrepreneurs and small businesses. The job creation component of TGRC’s directive is as imperative to its core focus as its environmental concerns and community initiatives.

“Activities that contributed towards the alignment of our goals included an intensified focus on the development of glass recycling entrepreneurs. Careful management of the entrepreneur relationship saw a 48% increase in the number of entrepreneurs assisted, bringing to 502 the total number of active glass recycling entrepreneurs assisted during the reporting period, which is almost double the 255 of the year prior,” says Jhetam. “This commitment extends to include existing entrepreneurs to ensure they maintain the sustainability of their businesses.”

Between July 2011 and June 2012, TGRC also placed a further 320 glass banks at accessible sites around the country. This takes the total sites where consumers can deposit their used glass nationwide to more than 2 800.

TGRC is the bridge between the South African public and the activity of glass recycling. Marketing and communications form a crucial part of TGRC’s mandate, with campaigns that educate and inspire individuals to adopt this essential ‘green’ behaviour, utilising activities such as social and traditional media, educational roadshows, design campaigns and community building initiatives. According to Jhetam, these marketing activities helped inspire and motivate South Africans to up the ante when it comes to the recycling of their waste glass.

Although TGRC has an unwavering commitment to making glass recycling part of South Africa’s innate culture and a core sustainability activity, Jhetam explained that there are considerable challenges that lie ahead, shaped by global and local challenges in business and society. “The road ahead will require a sharpened focus. The implementation of separation at source will ensure improvements in the recycling rate, and I am confident that with the extensive support we have and continue to enjoy, we are in good shape to meet the complexities of the recycling market,” concluded Jhetam.