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PLASTIC. Around the world 300 million tonnes of the stuff is produced every year with 7 million tonnes “drifting” into our oceans. At present, in the North Pacific there is a plastic island the size of South Africa floating around. How much is recycled in a year?

Only 4% of all plastics, around the world is recycled…hardly an efficient or flattering stat.

But early last week I was lucky enough to go on a small tour of the Propet S.A. factory, and in a short hour the Director, Chandru Wadhwani, seemed to recycle my youthful optimism that I, and others, can “be the change you want to see in the world” .

Chandru Wadhwani, Director of Propet S.A. holds clear resin chips from Extrupet who recycle 2million PET bottles a day.

Since Propet S.A. has been re-opened in June, in just six months, it has catalyzed a textile industry that was literally being “dumped” and has directly secured over 100 jobs while sustaining the jobs of employees in over 30 manufacturers- all by simply recycling plastic.

Propet S.A. is producing polyester fiber from recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) resin ships, that is collected and produced by Extrupet, in Wadeville Johannesberg. They aim to be recycling over 16 000 tonnes a month- that is, 68.5 million plastic bottles. And there is more good news, because the polyster fiber is USDA certified, meaning that the recycled plastic is clean enough to be used again, even for food packaging. In short Propet has developed a complete industrial cycle with plastic- wasting as few resources as possible, while using the waste of other industries- just as nature intended.

The recycled plastic being “towed”.

At the end of the tour of this unique factory in Killarney, Cape Town, I humbly stood inside a huge warehouse. It was full of bales and bales of recycled polyester fiber towering overhead. Chandru told me that each bale is made up of over 10 000 recycled PET bottles which otherwise would have found its way into our oceans, landfill sites and streets.

Propet S.A is leading the way in finding solutions to our waste problem and Chandru humbly whispered that far more is to follow…

The Challenges to the Recycling Sector

  • In 2001 South Africa consumed 50 000 tonnes of PET, today we consume 110 000 tonnes. And we only recover 40 000 tonnes (that’s still 1.3 billion PET bottles).
  • “Unfair competition” from foreign countries who do not have to comply with International labour laws or standard
  • The collection of the PET bottles, making it economically viable

What is Polyester Fiber used in/for?

  • PET Bottles (Coke, Fanta, Sprite, etc bottles)
  • Material for clothes (Helps maintain the colour in your clothes)
  • Bedding items
  • Roofing insulation (replacing the harmful fiberglass)
  • Geo-textiling

Chandru Wadhwani proudly stands in the warehouse of recycled polyester fiber- ready for local industry and for exports. Each bale you see equals over 10 000 recycled PET bottles.

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Team Africa Geographic

We're the Africa Geographic editorial team – a diverse set of writers, editors, designers and social media natives, all united by our passion for this addictive continent.