Thu. Jan 21st, 2021

Glass recyclers brought to their knees by alcohol ban

Across the country, thousands of small businesses and glass recycling collectors are on their knees, as the ban on alcohol sales has impacted those companies and individuals involved in the production and recycling of glass packaging.

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The terms of the national lockdown have adversely affected several sectors of the South African economy, but the alcohol ban is a measure that has knocked-on into glass recycling.

The Glass Recycling Company, who are mandated to ensure the recovery of waste glass for recycling nationwide say the industry has been stretched to breaking point by the lockdown.

Glass recyclers hit hard by booze ban

Demand for glass has plummeted as a result of the alcohol ban, and many businesses are reportedly on the brink of collapse.

Shabeer Jhetam, CEO of the Glass Recycling Company, says that many centres operated and owned by previously disadvantaged individuals were on the brink of collapse.

“Across the country, thousands of small businesses and glass recycling collectors are on their knees, as the ban on alcohol sales has impacted those companies and individuals involved in the production and recycling of glass packaging,” Jhetam said in a statement issued to the press on Friday 15 May.

“Many small-scale entrepreneurs, buy-back centres and cullet glass vendors have been hit hard as a result of the lack of trade, brought about by the limited sales of products in glass packaging. 

“Many of these small businesses operated by historically disadvantaged individuals, have over the past 14 years benefitted from support and training in building their recycling operations from the ground up, but they are now faced with near-certain closure as it has become impossible for them to sell their recyclable glass.”

Industry slowdown

Glass recyclers are allowed to operate during the lockdown, but other restrictions have made it nearly impossible for the industry to continue operating at close to normal capacity.

“South African glass manufacturers, unable to produce and sell alcoholic beverage bottles, are struggling immensely themselves and cannot receive or buy recyclable cullet, which is the small glass fragments used to manufacture new glass from recycled glass,” Jhetam added.

“This in turn has a horrific impact on the entire recycling supply chain since larger entrepreneurs cannot afford to collect or buy glass from buy back centres, while buy back centres are unwilling to purchase glass from the ‘man on the street’ – street collectors and so-called waste pickers. 

“In theory, recycling is permitted at an operating capacity of 50% during Level 4 of the South African lockdown, but in reality, these collectors are unable to make any income at this point. 

“In addition, entrepreneurs are unable to fund the collection of communities’ glass recycling from recycling banks, leading to excess glass potentially building up and collection points not being regularly serviced in our communities.”

Glass recyclers left in the lurch

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Glass recyclers: At the moment buy-back centres are unwilling to purchase glass from the ‘man on the street’ – street collectors and so-called waste pickers Photo: Supplied

Jhetam said that the informal nature of many cogs of the industry left many of its stakeholders unable to take advantage of relief measures instituted by government and private lenders.

The impact of the slowdown is set to affect not only the economy but also the environment as waster pickers are unable to make a living selling glass to recyclers.

“The sad reality is that the majority of glass collectors and small recycling businesses will fall through the cracks as they are not able to claim grants including UIF, as they very much fall into the informal sector,” Jhetam went on.

“The poorest of the poor in our communities, facing the prospect of a consistently empty stomach, are now coping near insurmountable odds in their daily lives. These dedicated workers, often the unsung heroes in our war on waste and climate change, are starving.”

While the glass industry has done its utmost to support vulnerable businesses and individuals, Jhetam warned that this was not sustainable.

“The local glass recycling and glass production industries are on the brink of collapse. Despite this, in a generous move, glass manufacturers (Consol and Isanti Glass) together with The Glass Recycling Company, jointly funded R1.8 million in payouts to cullet vendors during April and May in order to assist these small businesses, even as they cannot buy their cullet. However, these measures are simply not sustainable any longer.

“While we appreciate and are grateful for Government’s swift response and acknowledge the possible merits of somewhat limiting alcohol sales, realistically the dire consequences of this alcohol sales ban for a broad segment of the manufacturing and recycling sector has become catastrophic and should this restriction not be lifted, it will result in nothing short of the downfall of the glass manufacturing industry and upstream and downstream supply chains, in the South African market.”

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