PET Recycling: Zero-Waste Living

On 28th October 2020, Sustainable Seas Trust held their fourth Masterclass via live webcast, Tips For Achieving Zero-Waste Living. The webcast was presented by Marketing Officer at PET Recycling Company (PETCO), Kara Levy.

PETCO is the trading name of the PET Recycling Company NPC South Africa, a not-for-profit company incorporated in 2004. PETCO fulfils the PET industry’s role of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), being a voluntary industry driven and financed environmental solution for post-consumer PET plastic and the vehicle through which the PET industry self-regulates and co-ordinates its recycling activities.

PETCO is not involved in the physical collection or recycling of waste PET in South Africa, choosing to remain outside of the PET recycling value chain. Instead, it acts as a Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) that financially supports, on behalf of its members, activities along the waste PET value chain.

Kara is passionate about the PETCO cause, and enjoys educating pupils and members of society about recycling of PET and its contribution towards environmental protection and job creation.

In her webcast, Kara discusses three “hot topics” that are currently happening in the PET plastic recycling industry. Read the discussion, or watch the video below:


  1. Mandatory extended producer responsibility

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a waste management policy approach founded on product stewardship and the “polluter-pays principle.” The intention of EPR is to extend a producer’s financial or physical responsibility across the product’s life cycle, to the post-consumer stage, including waste disposal.

South Africa is in the midst of a significant overhaul to its product stewardship and waste diversion operations.

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries published the draft EPR Regulations as well the proposed EPR schemes for the lighting, electronic equipment, paper, and packaging sectors

The proposal recognises EPR as a key component underpinning the overall strategic approach of waste minimisation and a circular economy.

PETCO sees Extended Producer Responsibility as a tool for effective waste management, through fostering a Circular Economy and functioning as the connective tissue between the legislative and policy fields, thereby shifting responsibility upstream to the producer and away from municipalities. EPR also provides incentives to producers to incorporate environmental considerations in the design of their products.

See the gazette here: https://www.greengazette.co.za/notices/national-environmental-management-waste-act-59-2008-extended-producer-responsibility-scheme-for-paper-packaging-and-some-single-use-products_20201105-GGN-43882-01187


  1. Compostable and Biodegradable Packaging

We always hear people say things like, ‘But, it’s biodegradable… So, it must be better.’ Terms like biodegradable and renewable are used to mean universally good for the planet. Yet, these words simply describe a material’s property, not an environmental benefit, and are often used to misdirect consumers into thinking that just because something is capable of biodegrading, that it will also have an opportunity to do so. The fact is that, in the hands of the wrong systems, these properties can have a negative environmental impact.

A biodegradable material degrades by biological activity, resulting in a specific change in the chemical structure of the material. Degradation can occur under aerobic or anaerobic conditions. The end products are gas (carbon dioxide or methane), water, biomass, and mineral components.

A compostable material is a biodegradable material that breaks down in an aerobic composting process through the action of naturally occurring microorganisms. The biological processes yield carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass, leaving no visible contaminants or toxic residues.

Any plastic that evades appropriate collection and treatment and escapes into the environment has the potential to have a long-lasting impact on the environment – it does not matter whether it is bio-based, biodegradable or compostable.

So, does this mean biodegradable and compostable plastics are the answer? They do have their place, but compostable and biodegradable plastics need to be fit for purpose and responsibly managed to ensure they perform according to certifications and do not disrupt mechanical recycling systems.


  1. Increased Capacity:

The recycling of packaging does not begin with its collection, but rather with its design. Therefore, to maximise the recycling of plastic packaging, it is essential that retailers, brand owners, packaging manufacturers and designers embed recyclability principles into their design processes so that, at the end of its life, the packaging material can be successfully recycled and used again in new products and packaging.

PETCO have developed the essential how-to guide for all those involved in the development, design, marketing, and procurement of packaging on how to design PET plastic packaging that works for their products and for the planet.

These guidelines focus on the design of PET plastic packaging to facilitate recycling. The guide is important for the journey to sustainable production and consumption in South Africa and are driven by the requirements of the mechanical recycling process in South Africa specifically.

When designed properly, bottles can be recycled into a food grade resin. For example, clam shells for sandwiches, and tubs and trays for confectionery items.

Currently, most thermoformed PET trays contain at least 40% recycled content and, while these items are not currently recycled on a large scale, PETCO have already conducted a PET thermoform recycling pilot, which was to see if they could be made into polyester fibre and the results were positive.

Bottles can also be recycled right back into bottles, PETCO calls this bottle-2-bottle recycling. Bottles can also be recycled into other new and useful products like into polyester stable fibre which is used to make duvets, reusable shopping bags, pillows, roof insulation or car mats.

PETCO is financially supporting increased capacity for the creation of recycled PET in South Africa, which is critical to meeting all the global and local commitments that have been made both by brand owners and packaging interest groups. This increased capacity will also ultimately drive a more circular economy.


PETCO is Breaking the Plastic Wave:

By working towards facilitating EPR, PETCO is:

  • Ensuring that business-as-usual will not persist – with the intention of decreasing the amount of PET plastic leaked into the environment.
  • Increasing the amount of strategies put in place to decrease PET plastic pollution – ultimately moving towards a new plastics economy.

By educating consumers about compostable and biodegradable packaging, PETCO is:

  • Showing consumers that solutions are not always black and white, that packaging should be fit for purpose and that this type of packaging needs to be dealt with responsibly and preferably in a closed-loop system

By assisting to develop innovative new infrastructure, leading to an increase in the amount of recycling capacity in SA, PETCO is:

  • Assisting brand owners and pacts with their commitments to include more recycled PET in their products and increase recycling rates.
  • Ensuring that new innovations are constantly on the horizon leading to the development of new end-use markets which demand recycled PET material


Thank you to Kara Levy for joining Sustainable Seas Trust’s masterclass and sharing these three very important topics that are currently happening in the plastics and recycling industry. We are sure our readers and viewers will take away new insights from this discussion. For more information, watch the webcast below:

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