Africa should aim to transform plastics recycling infrastructure

25Jan 2020
The Guardian
Africa should aim to transform plastics recycling infrastructure

Plastic recycling is the process of recovering scrap or waste plastic and reprocessing the material into useful products. Since the majority of plastic is non-biodegradable, recycling is a part of global efforts to reduce plastic in the waste stream, especially the approximately 8 million metric-

-tonnes of waste plastic that enters the Earth's ocean every year.


Plastic recycling is very important and must be taken seriously. Plastics make up a huge amount of solid waste and take centuries to break down in landfill or the ocean. Therefore, all recyclable plastics should be recycled to reduce landfall, conserve energy and conserve the environment.

Compared with lucrative recycling of metal, and similar to the low value of glass recycling, plastic polymers recycling is often more challenging because of low density and low value. There are also numerous technical hurdles to overcome when recycling plastic. Materials recovery facilities are responsible for sorting and processing plastics, but have struggled to do so economically as of 2019.  

A group of international consumer goods companies operating across Africa launched the ‘African Plastics Recycling Alliance’ at the seventh edition of the Africa CEO Forum. The Alliance aims to transform plastics recycling infrastructure across sub-Saharan Africa.

Through the Alliance, companies will facilitate and support their local subsidiaries to engage in market-level public-private partnerships (PPPs) and industry collaborations. The Alliance will promote innovation and collaborate on technical solutions and local pilot initiatives to improve plastics collection and recycling, which in turn is expected to create jobs and commercial activity. Companies will also engage with the investment community and policymakers to accelerate the development and financing of waste management infrastructure and systems.

The Coca Cola Company, Diageo, Nestlé and Unilver launched the Alliance. Each of these companies also has individual corporate-level commitments in line with efforts to achieve SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production). The Coca Cola Company aims to use at least 50 per cent recycled material in its packaging by 2030 and to help collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells globally by 2030. Diageo is working to ensure that 100 per cent of its plastic can be recycled or reused/composed, using plastics that allow for increased consumer recycling rates, among other actions. Nestlé is making 100 per cent of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, and is eliminating non-recyclable or hard-to-recycle plastics as part of its corporate initiatives to accelerate action to tackle plastic waste. Unilever aims to achieve 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable and 25 per cent recycled plastic content by 2035 while also reducing its packaging weight by one-third and halving waste associated with product disposal by 2020.

Diageo Africa President, John O’Keefe, highlighted Diageo’s proactive approach as to “establish new, and leverage existing, multi-stakeholder partnerships which support the collection, processing, reuse and recycling of plastics and stimulate the market for recycled plastics.” He described the Alliance as an important next step in efforts to “accelerate and scale-up our localized in-country recycling efforts.”

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