You separate your recyclables from non-recyclables and put them out for collection on designated days. But do you know what happens to your recyclables once they leave your home?
Recycling involves the mechanical or chemical process of converting recyclable waste into reusable material. It’s a sustainable way to use resources such as cardboard, paper, plastic, and glass multiple times over, rather than letting them end up in landfills while mining more raw materials to make new products. The benefits of recycling are numerous:
- Diverting waste from landfills is crucial in South Africa where landfill sites are already full-to-capacity.
- Reducing carbon emissions, creating a cleaner environment and less demand for natural resources.
- Supporting and creating job opportunities in an economy where unemployment rates continue to rise.
Recycling is not just about waste management but also about building a better future.
The journey of recyclables
Once collected, your recyclables embark on a unique journey to become new products. Here’s a step-by-step guide to their transformation:
Residential recyclables are collected from the kerbside by various channels such as independent recycling companies or informal collectors. While some municipalities provide this service to residents, in other areas, residents can opt to pay recycling companies a fee to collect their kerbside recycling. Alternatively, they may establish relationships with informal collectors in their area and separate their recyclables for easy collection.
After collection, a degree of sorting is required. Independent recycling companies and informal collectors have options on where to take the recycling they’ve collected. More formalised recycling companies (or dealers) take the recycling to their facilities where they are baled. Mpact Recycling supplies K4 (used cardboard) baling equipment to certain dealers and in exchange the K4 is sold to one of Mpact Paper’s three mills. For more informal independent waste management and recycling companies and collectors, they can bring their collected recycling to one of Mpact Recycling’s 15 branches where it is weighed and bought. Collectors can also sell their recyclables to nearby buy-back centres.
At a Mpact Recycling branch, the recyclables are weighed, and a monetary value is assigned to them. Sorting takes place on the ground, where similar grades or types of recyclables are dropped off together. This includes cardboard, paper, plastic, glass and cans. Used cardboard is separated first as it is an essential resource for Mpact’s paper mills, followed by the white paper, which is essential to the tissue mills. Separating these materials early in the process helps to maintain their integrity. Glass is also separated manually and is not baled – but rather placed into a skip for easy transportation. At some branches, leftover plastic and cans go up a sorting belt for hand sorting into bags. The hand sorters are quick and eagle-eyed, separating cans from plastic and then sorting plastic into their different grades. Mpact Recycling collects PET (code 1), HDPE (code 2), LDPE (code 4) and PP (code 5).
Once sorted and stored in demarcated areas, the recyclables (excluding glass) are baled. A pusher drives material onto the conveyor belt of the baling machine. The material goes up the conveyor belt, into a compression chamber where it is squeezed into a cube and securely strapped with wire. These are the grades that are baled:
Cardboard and paper
- K4 – Corrugated cardboard
- HL1 – White office paper
- CMW – Mixed paper, e.g., newsprint, magazines, brown paper bags and cereal boxes
- PET – Polyethylene Terephthalate, e.g., cool drink and water bottles
- HDPE – High Density Polyethylene, e.g., milk bottles and plastic detergent bottles
- LDPE – Low Density Polyethylene, e.g., bread packets and grocery bags
- PP – Polypropylene, e.g., yoghurt and margarine tubs, syrup bottles and bottle caps
Transportation to the processing plant
Once the materials are baled, they are loaded onto trucks and transported to processing or recycling plants, where they are transformed into new products. This is where the recycling actually takes place. The processing plants for cardboard and paper are the paper and tissue mills, where the material is pulped and used to create new paper products. See how Mpact Waste Management transforms the waste they collect from their agricultural client into new corrugated boxes made by Mpact Corrugated. Read the full story here.
Plastics are taken to specialised facilities where they are washed, flaked, melted, extruded, and chopped up into pellets, which can be used to make new plastic products. Glass is usually crushed and then melted down to create new glass products.
The end product
After the materials have been processed, they can be turned into new products like tissue paper, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, toys, and many more. The possibilities are endless, and recycling allows us to reduce our demand for raw materials and decrease the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. This is what we refer to as the circular economy, an industrial system that is restorative by intention and design. To drive this circular economy, households must separate their recyclables from general (non-recyclable) refuse, and keep recyclables empty, clean and dry to ensure they get recycled.
The contribution doesn’t stop at home. Large-scale waste management, done at distribution centres and other businesses, has the potential to make an even greater impact. By implementing sustainable waste management practices, companies can reduce their carbon footprint, save resources, and create a cleaner environment for everyone. Contact us for a free waste audit.
When you recycle, think of the recyclable product as a commodity, not as rubbish. That recyclable is valuable and doesn’t belong in a landfill, the streets, rivers, or oceans. Send that recyclable on the journey to live again and support jobs and the South African economy along the way.
Together, we can create a more sustainable future for ourselves and for generations to come.