Recycling - Where do I Start?

Private Property South Africa
Shaun Wewege

Magazines and websites often run features that show readers how they can go about reusing items that are usually thrown away. While modern living is often wasteful I have to wonder whether the key to reducing carbon footprints really to make bird feeders out of empty two litre bottles rather than throwing them away. Are decorations and ornaments made from old lightbulbs really heirlooms that will be passed down to grandchildren? Probably not which is why we need to alter consumer habits.

Reducing consumption is the first step. Identify items that are non-essential and cut down on using them, choose brands that use the least amount of packaging (or packaging that can be recycled) and keep an eye out for manufacturers that offer products in reusable packaging or that have more ethical means of producing their wares.

While changing the way you shop is a starting point it is inevitable that you will end up with waste. The reasons to recycle are numerous and the figures below may shock you:

• Recycling all household paper would save 750 000 cubic metres of landfill space and reduce municipal refuse removal costs by R60 million a year.

• Each ton of recycled glass saves 1,2 tons of raw materials.

• Each year, over 36 000 tons of high grade steel is recovered for re-smelting. This reduces the need to mine new ore.

• Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) plastics can be recycled and for each ton of bottles or packaging that is recycled, 7.4 cubic metres of landfill space is saved.

Your household rubbish can be divided into five broad categories namely glass, plastic, paper, metal and bio-degradable food waste. Don’t be tempted to overcomplicate matters at first by subdividing into PET or PVC plastic, clear or amber bottles. At first you will need to separate waste into bin bags to see what you use the most. From there get a container for each of the waste types mentioned above (the size of container will be determined by how much of each item you use, how much space your home has and how often you will be able to dispose of waste) and get into the habit of throwing waste into each corresponding container.

From here you will need to find a disposal centre. Recycling in South Africa is still in its infancy and finding centres for each waste type will require some research (we have found a handy guide with countrywide contact information – details to follow). Some estates, apartment blocks and homeowners have contracted private companies to collect certain waste types. Informal collectors in Johannesburg can often be seen rummaging through bins and collecting waste. You will more than likely have to drop some of your items for recycling off at a drop-off point or buy-back centre. Some shopping malls are helping in this regard by having collection points on their premises.

An incredibly useful resource for recycling in South Africa is the Guide to Recycling in South Africa published on The guide gives a breakdown of the different types of plastics and provides practical advice for getting started with recycling.

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