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,” explains Sololo.
“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.
Different recycled paper products need different ingredients
On the home front, some citizens may be a little confused about why some types of paper – such as newspapers – are not wanted by collectors.
Just as chocolate cakes may differ slightly in terms of their ingredients, so too does paper. Printing paper, tissue, cardboard boxes, paper bags and sacks all require different types and quantities of raw materials. “The difference in paper recipes may even be customer-specific which makes papermaking an exact science,” says Sololo.
Historically newspapers were required as a raw material for newsprint manufacturing. The declining newspaper consumption, largely due to online media, has resulted in the closure of newsprint machines in South Africa, leaving only one operational newsprint machine. “In 2011, South Africa produced 316,725 tonnes of newsprint,” says Sololo, adding that in 2018, the annual newsprint production was less than half the 2011 figure at 113,912 tonnes. This in turn has reduced the demand for used newspapers by paper mills.
Newspapers are still used in the manufacture of moulded fibre products such as egg cartons, takeaway cup holders and fruit trays. “This is where brand owners and retailers can help make a difference – by moving from plastic to paper for their packaging,” notes Sololo. A classic example are polystyrene vegetable and fruit trays – these can be made effectively from paper pulp.
Some grades of paper are in higher demand than others. As an example, there is more use for white paper as it require less deinking and cleaning than newspapers and magazines. White paper also contains better quality fibres for “paper recipes”.
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.
* Recoverable paper excludes paper which is unrecoverable or unsuitable for recycling. For example, toilet tissue and sanitary products, cigarette paper and archive material.