Author: National Recycling Forum
( Article Type: Explanation )
What is recycling and where does it fit in terms of integrated waste management?
Recycling is the process whereby any discarded products and materials that have been reclaimed or recovered are refined, reprocessed and converted into new or different products. The term ‘recycling’ is often incorrectly used in a wider sense to describe the complete cycle, from collection, through processing to the production of new objects, or secondary raw materials, from reclaimed material. Recycling is just one of the ways to minimise waste. Other waste minimisation methods include re-use (using an item again for the same purpose for which it was originally made, e.g. re-using a container such as a bottle or glass jar) and repair (mending an item that was unserviceable because it was broken).
Certain waste streams may also be diverted from one source to a manufacturer who can use the waste as raw materials for a different process. This is called a Waste Exchange.Another way to reduce the waste stream is to compost the rapidly biodegradable fraction and use the compost to enrich the soil for gardening with vegetables and other plants. This recycling process can also use earthworms to speed up the breakdown of organic waste and is then called ‘vermiculture’. Biodegradable organic waste is waste that will decay and eventually return to the soil and nature. It includes garden refuse (e.g. grass clippings) and animal, fruit or vegetable leftovers resulting from the handling, preparation or cooking of foods. Biodegradable waste includes the materials that rot in the general waste stream. If this ‘wet fraction’ is separated at the point of generation from the ‘dry fraction’ (mostly recyclable packaging materials), then the dry fraction remains ‘clean’ and is of more value to the recycler. More information is downloadable from the User- Friendly Guidelines published on the Department of Education and Training website.
There is currently no law requiring recycling but future recycling targets might be regulated by law.
Recycling projects need financial and logistical support in the early stages of their development to ensure their sustainability. This can take the form of:
• Direct cash payment in return for materials delivered or collected, e.g. at a buy-back facility;
• Subsidies for collection and transport of materials in each recycling area;
• Tax incentives, including tax exemption for recyclers who purchase new recycling equipment;
• Low-interest loans for the purchase of recycling capital equipment;
• Higher landfill charges and raw material charges;
• Incentives to facilitate market conditions that encourage recycling;
• Municipal support for recycling initiatives in the form of bylaws that facilitate the location, operation and use of such facilities as those that are used to collect and store recycled material e.g. paper, lubricating oil, traffic cones, envelopes, plastic desktop accessories, refillable ink cartridges; and
• Registration of recyclers.
The relevance of recycling to South Africa
| A viable recycling industry already exists in South Africa despite the lack of legislation to encourage or enforce it. Recycling should be promoted and supported so that it can reach its full potential and to maximise formal and informal employment opportunities. More information on the recycling industry may be obtained from website of the National Recycling Forum.
The benefits of recycling
• Reduces the waste stream going to landfill sites, thus saving landfill airspace;
• Creates jobs;
• Helps reduce pollution and conserve natural resources;
• Conserves energy and reduces manufacturing costs;
• Reduces litter;
• Reduces informal salvaging from landfill sites. What can be recycled? Paper, cardboard, cans, scrap metal, plastic, glass, tyres, lubricating oils, as well as unusual items such as motor vehicles, white goods (e.g. old refrigerators, stoves and microwaves), electronic products, batteries, and construction and demolition rubble.
What cannot be recycled?
• Dirty recyclable materials.
• Laminates made of mixed material e.g. plastic-paper, paper-metal foil laminates.
• Laminated glass such as car windscreens.
• Materials that are uneconomical to recycle because of insufficient volumes, or if the transport distances to markets are too great.
These are environmental resources that are continuously renewing themselves. For example, energy that is harnessed from the sun, wind and waves is renewable. Trees, soil and water are renewable but only in the long term and only if careful plans are laid for sustainable use and replanting. Soil that is washed away by erosion will take thousands of years to regenerate but if it is conserved, it can be productive for centuries. Therefore, renewable resources need to be conserved and used wisely in order to be truly sustainable. An underlying principle to understanding renewable resources is the recognition that all resources, irrespective of whether they are renewable or non-renewable, must be utilised in a manner that will stretch and extend their usefulness either through conservation or through better and more efficient use.