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PVC recycling in SA shows promising growth despite tough trading conditions

Home Engineering Associations PVC recycling in SA shows promising growth despite tough trading conditions

THE Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA) has welcomed the plastics recycling report for 2020 released by Plastics SA, indicating that the recycling of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) or vinyl products in South Africa recorded a year-on-year increase of 9.5 %.

This was despite difficult trading conditions owing to global raw material shortages and supply chain issues, high material costs, interrupted electricity supply due to load shedding and the negative effects of COVID-19 on the industry.

“Vinyl is primarily used to manufacture products that have long lifespans, such as water pipes and plumbing accessories, floors, window and door profiles, cables and wiring, sports equipment, furniture and a range of lifesaving medical devices,” said Monique Holtzhausen, Chief Executive Officer of SAVA.

She added that only 12,600 tons (or 9%) of the locally consumed PVC goes into packaging such as bottles, thermoformed punnets, blister packs, clingfilm and other flexible packaging.

“Although a small volume polymer packaging material, it is important to note that it has very specific and necessary application values. All of these vinyl products are recyclable, in high demand by recyclers and help to reduce the amount of energy and raw materials needed to produce new products.”

Holtzhausen said the total domestic demand for PVC in 2020 was 141,800 tons, of which 76,000 tons went into the manufacturing of rigids (compounds, dry blends etc.) and 65,800 tons for flexibles. Although the virgin market decreased by 8.2 % during this year, a total of 21,433 tons of PVC were recycled, of which 13,440 tons were flexible (PVC-P) and 7,992 tons were rigid (PVC-U).

“The past two years has seen the global PVC supply badly impacted by the pandemic, lockdown measures, hurricanes and other natural disasters in the northern hemisphere, as well as other domestic and international events. This has resulted in low production of chlorine, raw material shortages and PVC prices reaching a 35-year high. On the flip side, it has also helped to drive the demand for recyclate, improve our own cradle-to-cradle infrastructure and develop our circular economy.”

South Africa currently has more than 40 recyclers which granulate and pelletise vinyl products for re-use in flooring and tiles, shoe soles or other PVC products. The biggest market (40%) for PVC recyclate continues to be the footwear industry where it is used to manufacture shoes, soles and gumboots, followed by the building and construction industry (38%) and agriculture (12%).

“Because PVC products need minimal maintenance, they require very little additional energy, raw materials and chemicals to ensure their continued functionality. Most vinyl products have the added advantage of remaining in use for a long period before they enter the waste stream,” Holtzhausen said.

“It has also been calculated that CO2 savings of up to 92% are achieved when PVC is recycled, and that recycled vinyl products have an energy demand that is typically between 45% to 90% lower than virgin PVC production (depending on the type of PVC and the recycling process).”

She said that although many end-markets have already been developed both for flexible and rigids, more can be done. “Our local recyclers are encouraged to continue developing and improving their recycling technologies in order to produce a consistent supply of good quality material that meets international standards.

“We also need to improve our collection methods and infrastructure. For this to happen, we need the buy-in of brand owners and retailers to ensure that we get back the vinyl packaging that they sell in order to effectively close the loop and thereby reduce our dependence on imports and virgin raw materials.”

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