Paper recycling in South Africa

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Monday, August 27, 2012

<p>Certain paper products such as corrugated cardboard have high recycling rates in South Africa (Image supplied by the Paper Recycling Association of South Africa).</p>

Certain paper products such as corrugated cardboard have high recycling rates in South Africa (Image supplied by the Paper Recycling Association of South Africa).

59% of recoverable paper and cardboard was recycled in South Africa in 2011 and the Paper Recycling Association of South Africa (PRASA) is targeting a figure of 63% by 2017 says Ursula Henneberry, Operations Director at PRASA. Recoverable paper and cardboard excludes paper that is not recyclable such as tissue paper, wax paper and bank notes among others; and, cardboard exports in the agricultural sector. The graph below shows that recycling rates have remained steady over the last four years.  

High paper prices drive paper recycling

One of the main drivers behind paper recycling rates is the cost of virgin material. High virgin material prices create a greater demand for recyclable fibre in paper mills explains Henneberry.

Martin Bothma statistician consultant for PRASA adds that paper recycling rates in South Africa are likely to improve because of global increases in the value of paper. Recycled fibre is used as a raw material in more than half of the paper mills in South Africa which helps to drive the demand, says Henneberry.  

Certain paper and cardboard products are experiencing higher recycling rates than others says Bothma. For instance corrugated cardboard has a high recycling rate in South Africa whereas recycling rates of office papers and magazine grades are lower and can be improved.

Global paper consumption decreasing

Worldwide trends have seen a decrease in general paper demand which has influenced the paper recycling industry says Henneberry.   Bothma adds that whilst there has been a decrease in the consumption of office paper in South Africa due to office behavioural changes and the growth in the IT sector, the South African market has seen an increase in the consumption of non-recyclable tissue paper as more people are now able to afford  these convenience products.  The graph below shows that the South African market experienced a decrease in paper consumption in 2009, due to the recession, but recovered to previous rates of consumption in 2011.  In 2011 South Africa consumed 2,402,919 metric tonnes of paper, of which 75% was recoverable paper, 17% was paper unsuitable for recovery, and 8% paper and cardboard exported in agricultural products. 

Ways to improve paper recycling

Henneberry from PRASA advises residents and businesses to separate their recyclable paper from other waste streams.  “If recyclable paper is not separated from other waste streams, especially kitchen waste, the paper cannot be recycled as it becomes contaminated” states Henneberry. In South Africa informal waste collectors contribute significantly towards paper recycling rates.  Lack of separation of paper at source makes it very difficult for informal collectors to take paper out of the waste stream, adds Henneberry.

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Amanda Botes