Ever wonder what happens to your trash after you throw it away?

Ever wonder what happens to your trash after you throw it away?
01 Nov 2016

Ever wonder what happens to your trash after you throw it away?

The truth is, most of the waste we throw into rubbish bins end up in one of South Africa’s strained landfill sites. A more sustainable and environmentally-friendly option would be to start recycling. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Where does the process of recycling start?

Recycling starts in your home when the recyclables are separated out from the non-recyclables. Once you know which materials are recyclable in South Africa (visit the National Recycling Forum’s website to find out more), set up a corresponding storage bin system to ensure successful home recycling.

You will need two bins – one for all your recyclables and one for non-recyclables. (Food waste can be separated out too, which you will need another container for if you have a composting system at home.) The garage or your kitchen is a good place to locate the bins; if storing your bins outside, the lids will need to be covered to secure the contents from pests and wind. Use smaller containers, as they will be easier to lift when full. If more than one person will be separating items for placement in the bins, label the recycling bins to ensure materials are separated correctly.

Once your system is set up, you have three recycling options:

1. Kerbside collection;
2. Dropping your recyclables off at a drop-off site;
3. Collection of your recyclables by informal collectors to sell on to buy-back centres.


Kerbside collection is when the municipality or a private company comes to your house to collect your recyclables. (Some municipalities offer kerbside collections, but not all, so just check with your municipality if this is a service they provide.)

Kerbside collection services will usually give you a list of what they collect, which makes it easier for you to know what you can and can’t recycle. They typically collect once every week or fortnight, so all you need to do is put out your bag with recyclables on the day of collection and they will come and collect it for you. Whilst you usually need to pay for the service, kerbside collections is one of the easiest and most convenient ways to recycle.

If the household recyclables are being collected by the Municipality, all your recyclables can be contained in one bag, which is provided to you by the Municipality. These bags are collected by Municipality collectors and dropped off at Material Recovery Facilities (or MRFs, pronounced ‘murfs’). MRFs are specialized plants that receive, separate and prepare recyclable materials to be sent to processors to produce new products, ultimately for marketing to end-user manufacturers.

Within these MRFs, recyclables are transferred from recycling bags onto a large conveyer-belt which feeds them into a machine for rough sorting. They are then transported from these machines to workers who further manually sort and group the recyclables into types e.g. PET plastic, glass, cardboard, etc.

These recyclables are then baled i.e. tightly compressed into large packages called bales*, and sent for recycling. For a list of PETCO’s contracted recycler partners, that buy baled bottles for recycling, see here**.


Most drop-off sites offer free and convenient access to drop off recyclables on any day of the week. They are frequently established close to businesses, such as grocery stores, providing a more centralised and accessible location to drop off recyclables.

If you go this route, remember that you will have to separate your recyclables at home and have somewhere to store them until you can take them to a drop-off site.

Find a drop-off site closest to you for your PET bottles and other recyclables on our website here. Also check for local NGOs, schools and shopping centres in your area that offer recycling facilities.


Buy-back centres are depots where individuals can sell their recyclables. These businesses rely heavily on recyclables collected by individual waste collectors (called informal collectors). The main activities at most buy-back centres are the receiving, weighing, sorting and packing of recyclables.

In South Africa, buy-back centres provide a sustainable source of income for many waste collectors whose livelihoods depend on collecting recyclables and selling it to buy-back centres. These waste pickers can earn between R20 and R150 a day from the amount of recyclables they collect which, for some, is their only or main source of income, considering the high rate of unemployment in South Africa. For example, PET recycling creates income for about 50 000 people in South Africa, and builds skills and entrepreneurship opportunities for many others.

If you don’t want to pay for kerbside collection, or you are unable to take your recyclables to a drop-off site, you could join the recycling movement by simply separating out your recyclables into a clear plastic bag and placing this in your bin, on top of the other non-recyclables, on collection day. By doing this, it becomes easier for waste collectors to identify the recyclables without needing to dig through your rubbish, which reduces health risks as well as the possibility of littering.

Recycling is an easy way to take care of our environment by reducing the amount of waste which gets diverted to landfill. If you start to separate your waste in this way, you will start to see just how much of what you usually throw away is recyclable.

Visit PETCO’s website for more information on how to start recycling, or email us for more info.

* Bales are far easier to handle, store and transport. Also, when recyclables are baled, they fetch more earnings at recycling plants.

** Our recycler partners will buy a minimum of 20 tonnes of baled bottles, to be delivered to their plants, and the price received for these bales will vary according to bale standard, level of sorting, as well as distance from markets.