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paper recyclingHow Can We Help South Africa’s Paper Recycling Industry?

By Berenice Westmore, with input from Jane Molony, executive director of the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa & Donna-Mari Noble

SSouth Africa has been celebrated for its excellent recycling achievements of late, especially when it comes to paper recycling. As a country, we were able to meet our 2020 paper recycling target of 70% in 2017, with approximately 1.3-million tonnes of cardboard, paper, and liquid packaging being recycled Three impressive years ahead of schedule!

However, despite the fact that we have been winning the fight against waste up until now, the SA recycling industry has recently been experiencing problems with regard to paper recycling.

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. There are various economic factors at play, not the 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.

Closer to home, the drought has affected domestic agricultural production. This has a knock-on effect for the paper packaging sector. Less fresh produce available for export means less boxes are being produced.

“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. 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.

Of particular concern is China’s Ban on accepting imports of paper waste from January 2018, the effects of which are only now starting to become evident. As a result, some leading paper recyclers have stopped accepting what is termed “mixed paper”.

Some mills may still have a use for them but with the decline in print media consumption due to electronic media, mills had to adjust their recipes when the supply for such grades was low. Some paper mills have put quotas on the suppliers for “common mixed waste” (see below) and brown cardboard boxes due to space constraints.

What types of paper are no longer being accepted?

The following types of paper may no longer be accepted by some South African paper mills:

  • Tissue paper – tissue has NEVER been recyclable.
  • Common mixed waste paper:
  • Gift bags (although some are not always recyclable especially if they have embellishments and laminates)
  • Cereal boxes
  • Tissue boxes
  • Toilet roll inners
  • Magazines
  • Newspaper

Note that some paper mills may still accept some of the above: visit to contact different mills and enquire accordingly.

What types of paper have been unaffected by the surplus?

Some grades of paper are in higher demand than others. As an example, there is more use for white paper as it requires less deinking and cleaning than newspapers and magazines. White paper also contains better quality fibres for “paper recipes”.

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.

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 plastic garden furniture.
  • Common or mixed papers (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.

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. 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.

Fortunately newspaper is very versatile and can be used for many things. Here are our top five but you can find a more comprehensive list on

What individuals can do to help

Ultimately, if you do not own a business, you can still help to counteract the problem and reduce the over-supply by paying close attention to minimising your personal and household waste.

Society needs to reduce consumption where possible, reuse items and then recycle.

Visit fresh food farmers’ markets, buy second-hand items, and upcycle your old paper products in creative ways.
Contact Postwink to help you keep your paper and paper packaging separate from the rest, ultimately ensuring that it gets recycled.

Keep recycling!

  1. Visit – Check out our “Where to recycle” page for some useful links.
  2. Support your neighborhood recycling collectors – find out what they collect and put this in a separate bag for them. You may opt to support the same person each week or simply put a bag out on your pavement on a first come, first serve basis.
  3. Support a school or community centre under the Mpact Recycling paper bank programme. The company is in the process of upgrading some of its sites so separation is key: white paper in one bag, cardboard in one bag, beverage cartons in one bag, cereal boxes, coloured paper and where applicable magazines in one bag. Look for your nearest paper bank here.
  4. Support recycling collection businesses which offer a paid service. Do a web search for “recycling collection services” for your area.
  5. Explore your local shopping centre and find out if they have a recycling zone.

So keep up with those recycling efforts! And keep your paper clean and dry, and separate from other waste.

Contact Postwink to help you keep your white paper separate from the rest, ultimately ensuring that it gets recycled.

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