Patricia Pillay, CEO, Polyco

As scientists, activists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, women have blazed a trail for the plastic recycling industry. Through their innovation they have had brilliant breakthroughs, and have crafted real-world applications that keep us safe, and create a lasting legacy for the next generation of women who aspire to change the world for the better.

One such inspiring business leader is Patricia Pillay, CEO at Polyco. Patricia’s vast legal, advocacy, and regulatory experience, having served as the Executive for Legal, Regulatory, and Sustainability at the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa for over ten years, has adequately prepared her for close collaboration and partnerships with government, industry bodies, and regulatory agencies in order to represent the interests of the industry. She is also an Attorney of the High Court of South Africa and a certified part-time commissioner of the CCMA.

In addition to her leadership roles, Patricia is passionate about empowering women for the betterment of society and, in her spare time, works with the Home of Hope for Girls, who provide support to girls rescued from Human Trafficking. Today, Patricia is moving the needle on sustainability and making a positive impact on the environment & society through her passion and commitment at Polyco.

A Journey Guided by a Strong Passion for Environmental Sustainability

Patricia’s journey to becoming CEO at Polyco started with a strong passion for environmental sustainability and a deep understanding of the challenges posed by plastic waste, having headed the sustainability division at the CGCSA (Consumer Goods Council of South Africa). She has always been driven by the desire to make a positive impact on the world, and leading Polyco allows her to do just that. Currently, with a team of dedicated professionals and the support of Polyco’s members, Patricia is able to invest in plastic recycling and collection businesses, driving the growth of the industry in South Africa and, most importantly, creating a cleaner, healthier environment for all.

What truly inspires Patricia about her work at Polyco is the opportunity to contribute to a sustainable future and make a positive impact on the environment and society. Even though plastic waste poses significant challenges, it also presents Polyco with opportunities to innovate and find creative solutions. “For this, I have an amazing team with a shared ethos that has the energy and drive to make a positive impact,” proudly shares Patricia.

Polyco: Committed to Making the Waste Work

Polyco PRO NPC is a registered producer responsibility organization (PRO) that manages an extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme focussed on plastic packaging in South Africa. Polyco’s mission is to bring global best practices to South Africa by investing in plastic recycling initiatives that support social inclusion and wellbeing, an improved environment, and economic growth. Through various initiatives, the organization has invested over R120 million into projects and achieved capacity growth of over 300,000 tonnes of plastic recycling through its investments in over 140 project partners. These are plastics that ordinarily would have gone into the landfill or ended up in the ocean. One of Polyco’s key drivers being the implementation of mandatory Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) from the voluntary scheme it had prior to 2021.

By working closely with producers, brand owners and importers, Polyco encourages them to take responsibility for the plastic packaging they produce and put into the South African market, and working together to provide solutions for increased recycling and collection rates and reducing plastic waste in the environment. This approach has resulted in a significant positive impact on South Africa’s environment by promoting a circular economy and reducing the reliance on virgin plastic materials. From a socio-economic perspective, Polyco’s Packa-Ching project, a community-based program across the country, truly shows its impact as it has paid over R17 million to informal community members and has collected over 17 million kilograms of recyclable waste from these communities.

Extended Producer Responsibility  

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) was gazetted by DFFE to extend the responsibility for the environmental impacts of packaging to the post-consumer stage of the packaging’s life cycle. In practice, EPR involves the producers of the packaging taking responsibility for the management of packaging after it has been used and becomes waste. This can include the collection, sorting, reuse, recovery, recycling, and/or final disposal. Producers are responsible for the full cost of collection and treatment of their identified products at their end-of-life.

With Polyco’s EPR scheme being accredited by Minister Creecy, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a fundamental aspect of Polyco’s business. It now becomes Polyco’s responsibility to assist producers who are being held accountable for the entire life cycle of their products, including their post-consumer waste. By implementing EPR programs, Polyco focuses on the initiatives on behalf of their members, including project investments, waste picker integration, municipal support, education & awareness, stakeholder relationships, and design for recyclability.

Collaboration a Key Aspect of Work

According to Patricia, collaboration is a key aspect of Polyco’s work. She believes that by working together with various stakeholders, more significant and sustainable results can be achieved. One such successful collaboration has been with the Centre for Regenerative Design & Collaboration (CRDC), where Polyco provided a loan to purchase machinery that converts unrecyclable and difficult-to-recycle plastic into eco-aggregate called RESIN8. This collaboration not only contributes to increased recycling rates but also provides a high-quality eco-aggregate for the construction sector. For Polyco, such partnerships enable it to leverage expertise, resources, and networks, accelerating its impact and achieving its objectives more effectively.

Million Plus Plastics Recycling Resolution

Polyco is committed to educating both the industry and consumers about recycling throughout South Africa. One of its successful educational and awareness initiatives is through Polyco’s Million Plus Recyclers brand, which develops targeted consumer campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of plastic recycling and responsible waste management.

Patricia, while shedding light on the Million Plus Plastic Recycling initiative, explains, “Our initial target was to get a million consumers in South Africa to sign a pledge committing to make better choices for the environment. Notably, we have surpassed this number, with over 1,300,000 citizens engaging with the brand. The aim of the messaging is to change attitudes and behaviors towards plastic waste, promote the adoption of sustainable practices, and encourage separation at source and active participation in recycling programs through these campaigns.”

Under Patricia’s leadership, Polyco collaborates with educational institutions, government departments, members and partners to develop educational materials and programs that provide information and practical guidance on recycling to grassroots levels and upwards. For instance, Polyco’s collaboration with Pick n Pay School Club has reached over 2 million learners and over 100,000 educators in the year 2023 alone.

Supported by a Strong Background in Law

Patricia considers her background as an attorney to have played a crucial role in managing Polyco’s relationships with government, industry bodies and regulatory agencies. She shares, “By encouraging our members to understand and operate within the legal framework and comply with all relevant regulations set by the Department of Forestry Fishers and Environment (DFFE) is a priority for us.” Moreover, being an admitted attorney enables Patricia to effectively advocate for fair policies and regulations that support the growth of the plastic recycling industry in South Africa in a way that supports the environmental ecosystem.

A Cause Close to Heart

For Patricia, women empowerment is a cause that is close to her heart and it also aligns with Polyco’s mission of creating a sustainable and inclusive society. “I am personally involved in initiatives like the Home of Hope for Girls, where we provide support and opportunities for young women rescued from human trafficking,” shares Patricia. “At Polyco, we believe in equal opportunities and diversity, and we strive to empower women within our organisation and the wider plastic recycling industry, as we are vehement supporters of women in waste, as well as those with disabilities.” Polyco’s EPR service fee goes toward the compensation for waste reclaimers as outlined in the legislation. As an extension, Polyco also supports women in waste in collaboration with the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEA&DP) on its “Give Dignity Campaign.” This includes providing tools of the trade to waste reclaimers, such as trolleys designed for ease of transporting waste, as well as sanitary packs to these women.

Crafting an Impactful Leadership Philosophy

At Polyco, Patricia’s leadership style is characterized by collaboration, transparency, and a strong focus on results. She believes in empowering her team and fostering a culture of innovation and continuous improvement. At large, by creating a supportive and inclusive work environment, Polyco is able to attract and retain top talent and drive the success of its initiatives. She further points out that Polyco has a lean team, as they are only allowed a small percentage of their EPR fee to be allocated towards administration costs. This, however, allows the team members to be multifunctional, willing, and able to support each other in their roles should the need arise.

As CEO at Polyco, Patricia also recognizes the importance of building strong relationships with stakeholders, as it is through collaboration and partnerships that they can achieve their goals and create lasting change.

Raising Awareness of Plastic Waste

As a sustainability advocate, Patricia hopes to shed light on the importance of sustainability and separating waste at source with responsible waste management. She feels that every small action counts, and together, we can build a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable future for generations to come. “It just takes one person to recycle one piece of plastic to make a difference. Everyone should be that one person,” concludes Patricia.

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