South Africa’s paper recovery rate is at 68.5% with 1.2 million tonnes of recyclable paper products diverted from landfill during 2019, according to Anele Sololo, general manager of RecyclePaperZA, the paper recycling association of South Africa.
“Although the paper recovery rate was slightly down on 2018, the same tonnage was diverted from landfill at 1.2 million tonnes,” explains Sololo, pointing out that there is often a lag between consumer or industrial use, and the recycling or manufacturing into new product. The percentage drop could also be attributed to companies holding stock of paper products and recovered paper for recycling or waste traders awaiting better export opportunities, she says.
During 2019, there was also an increase in export sales of packaged agricultural and non-agricultural products, which meant that less packaging – around 280 000 tonnes – was available for domestic recovery and recycling.
RecyclePaperZA is encouraged to see more brands looking at paper-based packaging solutions as paper offers something that no other packaging material does – it stores carbon. Absorbed by trees during photosynthesis, the carbon remains locked up in wood and paper products for their lifecycle.
“Paper recycling helps to keep the carbon locked up for longer and out of the atmosphere,” says Sololo, adding that paper is only sourced from sustainably managed timber plantations. “This makes paper a renewable resource too.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown and slowed economy have resulted in reduced availability of used white paper, newspapers and cardboard boxes.
“Contrary to late last year, when the market was in a cycle of oversupply, we are now experiencing reduced supply and increased demand for paper fibre,” says Sololo, adding that with offices and schools closed, there is less used office paper available for recycling. White paper is a recycling staple, especially in the production of tissue products.
With fewer physical newspapers in circulation during lockdown, there was less of this grade available for use in moulded fibre products such as egg boxes and takeaway cup holders. “Sadly, we have also seen a number of magazine titles closing down.”
As the economy opens up, RecyclePaperZA members are hoping that the supply-demand ratio will even out, in particular in the e-commerce market. “Remember to recycle those online shopping boxes!” say Sololo.