Let’s Solve South Africa’s Waste Crisis By Making Waste Work


Did you know that only 5% of South Africans recycle? Ok, now that we have your attention, let’s talk about how we can solve this together by encouraging our family, friends, neighbours and colleagues to increase that number.  

Much of our packaging waste problems - the 2 million tonnes of packaging waste from household products going to landfill each year and an abundance of visible waste – can be overcome by recycling. This leads to questions around why more people aren’t participating.

One of the most significant reasons is the mind-set of the public towards recycling. This according to Mandy Naudé, CEO of Polyco, a non-profit industry body formed by polyolefin packaging producers to reduce the amount of polyolefin waste going to landfill. At a recent event held by Polyco to highlight how South Africans can make waste work, Mandy said: “We want to transform people’s perception of waste by teaching them that used packaging has value and it creates opportunities across the country.

Throughout the course of the event, achievements made under the banners of “Celebrate, Collaborate and Activate” were applauded. “Our Celebration component recognises innovation and celebrates the successes of the sector. Collaboration opens our doors to working with likeminded people in the industry who share our goal – spurring an increase in recycling in South Africa. At the crux of our strategy is Activation - the implementation of our project funding model, education and awareness campaigns and the launch of innovative solutions to transform attitudes towards recycling and bring about real change,” said Naudé.

Two problems, one solution

The supply of ‘green’ school desks from the recycling of multilayer plastics is being made possible through a partnership between Polyco and the Wildlands Conservation Trust. “Previously, multilayer plastics were being sent to landfill. Now they are being made into desks and supplied to schools that lack these resources. The statistics on the shortage of desks in South Africa range from 300,000 to three million. If we made all those desks out of multilayer plastics it would mean that 50kg of plastic per desk would be diverted away from landfill, whilst also providing a solution to a critical infrastructure shortage in South African schools,” said Naudé.

Funding for a better future

Since 2013, Polyco has invested over R29 million in more than 45 projects around South Africa to grow the collection, separation, sorting and recycling of post-consumer polyolefin plastics. One of these projects, Destination Green Recycling, received a R100,000 grant, which was put towards the purchase of a trailer, floor scale and bailer. This has enabled the community of Tembisa - and those living beyond its borders - to earn an income via the youth-led and focussed organisation’s mobile buy-back service, which generates five tonnes of recyclable waste on average per month. “Polyco has been a star contributor to the success of Destination Green,” said the company’s Co-founder, Zwelibanzi Mnguni.

A recycling revolution

In just over three months, residents in Langa, Cape Town, have recycled 64 tonnes of glass, paper, plastic and metal cans and, in exchange, have collectively received R59,000 through the PACKA-CHING project spearheaded by Polyco.

In essence, Packa-Ching is a mobile buy-back centre that travels into communities to purchase recyclable materials from the public. Brooke Kühne, PACKA-CHING Project Co-ordinator, explained that the goal of the project is to incentivise people to change their behaviour. “In doing so, we achieve our overarching goal of diverting packaging away from landfill, whilst simultaneously cleaning up the environment and contributing to poverty alleviation in South Africa. What’s more, four community members have gained employment through the project. The success of the pilot project will enable us to roll out nationally over the next five years and make an even bigger difference.”

For more information on Polyco, go to, or to find out more about PACKA-CHING visit

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