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More than 12 million tonnes of paper and paper packaging have been recovered for recycling in South Africa over the past decade.

This, according to RecyclePaperZA, the country’s paper recycling association, has ensured that waste paper is diverted from landfill and recycled into new products – tissue products, newsprint and paper packaging for the agricultural, manufacturing and retail sectors.

In 2018, South Africa collected 71.7% of recoverable paper and packaging, amounting to 1,285 million tonnes.

“South Africa is in the enviable position of being able to use up to 90% of its recovered waste paper locally by recycling it into new paper, packaging and tissue,” says Anele Sololo, general manager of RecyclePaperZA.

The balance of waste paper is exported.

A difficult time for paper industry, but don’t stop recycling

Currently, the global paper recycling industry is faced with over-supply. “This means there is more waste paper available than there is use for it,” says Sololo.

There are various economic factors at play, not least of which is China’s stricter requirement for cleaner waste imports since 2017. This means that around 30 million tonnes of waste paper from around the world needs to find a new home and use.

In South Africa, the severe drought in fruit-growing regions has had a knock-on effect for the paper packaging sector.

“Corrugators produce less boxes for fruit with the result being that mills produce less paper which affects waste paper consumption rates. It is important to understand that collectors are paid for the recyclables they collect, and the higher the value of that recyclable, the more likely they are to collect it,” says Sololo.

The lower demand in the market will effect a price drop as mills need to ensure they remain commercially viable, and unfortunately this affects recycling collectors and traders.

The South African paper industry is however investing in research and development of alternative uses for recycled paper to ensure that recyclable paper and paperboard continues to be diverted from landfill and help improve demand for recycled paper fibre.

What are the various types of paper recycled into?

  • White office paper is made from certified, sustainably produced virgin wood fibre, especially if it is made in South Africa. White paper, which contains good quality fibre, is recycled into tissue products and is also added to the other paper recipes.
  • Brown cardboard boxes are repulped into new cardboard boxes and brown kraft paper which in turn can also will be converted into sacks and bags.
  • Liquid packaging board (beverage cartons and paper cups) comprises long, strong virgin fibre, also from sustainably managed forests, which is a great ingredient for paper products that require strength. The plastic and foil layers in liquid packaging board are separated from the paper in the recycling process and can be used in a range of applications such as plastic garden furniture.
  • Common or mixed paper and cardboard packaging (cereal and dry food cartons, coloured paper, magazines, toilet roll cores) are classifed by the industry as “common mixed waste”. These go into recipes for various paper products even tissue – if the mill has a deinking plant.
  • What should we do with “old news”?
  • Fortunately newspaper is very versatile and can be used for many things.

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