The paper and packaging industry is a significant contributor to local manufacturing and recycling and continues to create local job opportunities, says JSE-listed plastic and paper packaging group Mpact CEO Bruce Strong.
“Paper and plastic packaging manufactured in South Africa is made from locally sourced raw materials, such as wood or recovered paper, and plastic polymers. As the beneficiation of these products takes place in South Africa, it reduces the need to import finished products, contributing to local employment,” he says.
Strong adds that the South African economy is further stimulated by opportunities for beneficiation within the paper recycling industry. As a large paper recycler in South Africa, collecting more than 450 000 t/y of recovered paper, Mpact’s recycling business provides employment opportunities and environmental benefits.
Recycling considerably decreases the reliance on virgin fibre in the production process and eliminates the need to send this recycled paper to landfills or incinerate it.
About 100 000 people are involved in recycling in South Africa, 30 000 of which are involved in the paper recycling sector. In terms of job sustainability in the paper and packaging industry, recycling also contributes to the development of small, medium-sized and microenterprises.
Mpact’s recycling division, Mpact Recycling, has relationships with more than 40 entrepreneurial companies that have been empowered to facilitate the collection of material for recycling on behalf of the company. The 40 companies deliver the recovered paper they collect directly to Mpact Recycling’s operations.
Mpact Recycling has seven of its own recycling operations and 42 buy-back centres in major cities and outlying communities around South Africa. It also supports 90 independent dealers across the country that collect waste from the market and original waste sources and sell it directly to Mpact Recycling or its paper mills.
Mpact specialises in the manufacture of corrugated packaging, recycled-based carton board, containerboard, paper collection, polyethylene terephthalate preforms, styrene trays and plastic jumbo bins.
Meanwhile, the paper and packaging industry plays an important role in terms of food security. “While some consumers tend to dismiss packaging as an unnecessary cost, the sector plays a very important role in ensuring food security.
“According to the Packaging Council of South Africa, in less-developed countries where the packaging and food processing industries are not as sophisticated, about 40% of all produce never reaches consumers in a state fit for consumption,” says Strong, which illustrates, he adds, that packaging plays a key role in food security and, consequently, in the long-term sustainability of food resources.
While there is a debate about the overuse of packaging, products without protection would invariably be destroyed before reaching the market. However, it is essential to consider more than just the protective quality of the packaging Mpact continually strives to reduce, wherever possible, the packaging weight associated with its products.
“The immediate benefit is that less pack- aging is needed to meet the same requirements for a product, which ultimately results in less landfill and less potential damage to the environment.
“Moreover, reducing the packaging weight reduces the cost of transport. This is particularly important because transport costs are significant, given, not only the size of the country but also the sharp increase in fuel and other input costs,” says Strong.
The wooden crate, which was for decades a packaging staple for greengrocers, farmers and supermarkets, has now almost entirely been replaced by the corrugated box as the preferred packaging to carry produce.
The evolution of the corrugated box has brought about less waste, benefits for the envi- ronment and health advantages, and ultimately does not increase the cost of a product.
“Corrugated boxes for packaging every- day foodstuffs are remarkable, as they have the same strength properties as a wooden box but many more benefits,” says Mpact Corrugated MD Ralph von Veh.
Packaging companies are under pressure to design durable lightweight boxes that do not compromise on strength. Packaging must have vertical strength when stacked for export to withstand more than 1 500 kg on the bottom layer. The corrugated-based packaging must also be able to withstand up to six weeks of refrigeration when used for exports.
In the past ten years, boxes have also become much more than just a transport container. Manufacturers and brand owners now want their branding incorporated into packaging right at the farm or agriprocessing centre. Once the box is filled, the produce is not handled again until the consumer selects items straight from it in a store, notes Von Veh.
“There are numerous benefits to the way in which we now package produce. One of these is reduced risk of contamination as the produce is physically being handled less,” he says.
Less postharvest handling also decreases the chance of wastage, as produce is less likely to be damaged.