Glass recycling in South Africa

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Tuesday, August 28, 2012

<p>South African glass recycling rates are catching up to those of Brazil and Australia (Image supplied by The Glass Recycling Company).</p>

South African glass recycling rates are catching up to those of Brazil and Australia (Image supplied by The Glass Recycling Company).

The recycling rate of glass packaging in South Africa has improved from just 18% in 2005/6 to 40% in 2010/11 says Shabeer Jhetam, CEO for The Glass Recycling Company (TGRC).  For the 2010/11 period   338,265 tonnes, of a total of 845,663 tonnes of glass packaging consumed in South Africa was recycled. Although recycling rates have increased dramatically over the last five years Jhetam notes that it is going to be more difficult and expensive to improve these rates going forward. 

The Glass Recycling Company

The increase in glass recycling rates coincided with the establishment of TGRC in 2006. TGRC facilitates the glass recycling in South Africa through marketing, communication and education programmes.   TGRC has installed over 2000 glass banks since 2006 aimed at the higher end of the market.  In addition they provide a SMS service through which people can find their nearest glass bank. At the lower end of the market TGRC assists entrepreneurs, most of whom are from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, to establish buy-back centres for glass recycling by supplying equipment such as scales, bags, drums and skips and providing guidance on managing a sustainable business. These entrepreneurs and buy-back centres provide a source of income to street collectors, the majority of whom are unemployed.  TGRC also has a school education programme on glass recycling and a schools competition for glass collection. 


TGRC is non-profit organisation and funds its programmes through a voluntary levy paid by South Africa’s glass fillers, for every tonne of glass purchased from the two glass manufacturers.  In addition to the funds generated through the levy, these manufacturers  have invested R320 million into colour processing plants which automatically divide glass by colour.  This has made it easier for consumers to dispose of their glass as there is no longer a need for glass to be separated into the three colours, and has resulted in improved recycling rates, explains Jhetam.

Comparison with other countries

While South African glass recycling rates are just below that of Brazil and Australia, both at approximately 47%, Jhetam explains that  South African recycling rates cannot be compared with the much higher rates of European countries which have strict legislation enforcing recycling.

Improving glass recycling rates

Jhetam feels that South African recycling rates will improve if waste is separated at source, as is prescribed in the Waste Management Act.  He believes that Municipalities have an important role to play and need to work with industry to enable waste separation at source.

Returnable glass

South Africa has one of the most sophisticated glass returnable systems in the world, says Jhetam. As an example, in the beer industry more than 99% of all quart (which are returnable) bottles are returned to retail outlets as a result of the deposit that is paid back to consumers. Returnable glass bottles can be reused at least 21 times before they have to be sent for recycling. On an annual basis just under one million tonnes of glass enters the South African market every year but Jhetam estimates that the returns system prevents approximately two million tonnes of new glass from being produced every year, which could potentially end up in landfills.

For more information or to contact TGRC, visit The Glass Recycling Company on Facebook (, on Twitter (@TGRC) or their website ( You can also contact them on 0861 2 GLASS (45877).

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Amanda Botes