Future of Namibian recycling in the balance

27 May 2020 | Environment

Windhoek • [email protected]

With South Africa placing a moratorium on buying all Polyethylene terephthalate (PET*) plastics for recycling purposes, Namibian recyclers are now forced to stockpile the waste at their premises.
According to Rent-A-Drum facility manager Abraham Reinhardt, this has influenced the industry very badly. “PET was about 30% of all recyclables being collected,” he said.
Asked if Namibia has the capacity to recycle this plastic, he said that they are busy with feasibility studies to see what can be done. In the meantime, all Rent-A-Drum sorted and baled PET is stockpiled at their branches. “Other recycling collectors in Namibia are also stockpiling it at their premises until further notice.”
The moratorium came due to overstock volumes, as South Africa buys PET from all neighbouring countries and resulting in the flooding of the market. “All PET import permits to South Africa have been stopped and will not be issued or renewed again soon,” Reinhardt said.
However, this is not the only challenge recyclers in Namibia face: Recycling vendors in South Africa have also reduced recyclable commodity prices. The fact that certain recyclable commodities are no longer accepted by the vendors in South Africa, has been a hard knock for the local recycling industry. “No magazine or glossy paper has been accepted since October 2019, while no more LDPE wash plant blue plastic is has been accepted since November last year. This is mostly due to the fish smell in the plastic,” Reinhardt said.
In the past Rent-A-Drum alone exported around 2 000 tons of recyclable material to South Africa per month, “under normal conditions”. However, during the lockdown they received very little packing material and other recyclables from businesses, due to many industrial and retail businesses being closed.
They were expecting to collect more household recyclables in Windhoek during the lockdown period since more people were at home, thus generating more waste at home. “This was unfortunately not the case and we collected less recyclables than during the previous months,” Reinhardt admitted, adding that Swakopmund’s recycling volume for April was the lowest it has ever been, with household recycling dropping by 20 tons from the previous month.
“Also, many clients terminated or temporarily terminated their waste collection agreements due to financial constraints,” he noted.
*PET is a clear, strong, and lightweight plastic that is used for packaging foods and beverages. According to Wikipedia, it is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family and is used in fibres for clothing.