The South African paper, pulp and board industry has consistently increased exports of paper and board and maintained imports at similar levels for the past three years, despite facing a number of challenges, says Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (Pamsa) executive director Jane Molony. However, she notes that local consumption, which peaked in 2007, dropped off in 2008 and in 2009.
Pulp production and exports have steadily increased since 2007. Exports in 2008 amounted to 850 000 t, up from 671 000 t in 2007, and 2009 exports appear to have exceeded these figures, despite the recession, she says.
The technology boom may have negatively impacted on the global demand for paper and pulp, but, in 2008, there was an increase in literacy and in newspaper readership in South Africa and a resultant increase in demand for paper. Molony attributes this to the country’s status as a developing nation, which does not afford it as many technological opportunities, such as ebooks, as in developed nations.
She believes that there may well be an entire future generation that will embrace the paperless news world. However, while the local industry has taken cognisance of this threat, in the medium term, it should not adversely affect demand for newsprint. “Demand for newsprint, as a grade, has dropped by the same percentage as the overall consumption of paper. The only grade that has increased in demand is tissue paper,” she says.
The National Environmental Management: Waste Act was signed into law in July 2009, and Pamsa believes that this is exciting news for the paper recycling industry. “It is a clear indication that government is as serious about waste management in South Africa as the industry is. It also opens the door for a tripartite partnership involving government, business and the public sector,” says Molony.
“The paper industry has always taken environmental responsibility seriously, and its research and development centres are continuously looking at ways to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint,” she insists.
A few years ago, the industry was selected by the then Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism for a pilot project for the implementation of cleaner production. She explains that two paper mills received training in cleaner production techniques, including waste reduction, reduction in raw material inputs (dematerialisation), reduction in energy use and the use of less hazardous additives. This training has since been rolled out to ten other mills, where case studies were undertaken as part of the training programme, she says.
Pamsa is collating the 2009 recycling statistics, but is impressed with the 2008 recycling rate of 58,6%. Molony explains that, as a result of the global economic downturn, 2009 was particularly challenging for the industry, resulting in the demand for paper pro-ducts slowing and many paper mills having to enforce commercial down time.
She says that this will impact on the recovery rate for 2009. However, Pamsa is optimistic about increased paper recycling rates in the future. Molony says that improved recycling rates are a top priority in the industry and that the association will continue to use every opportunity to promote recycling through education and awareness.
The paper and packaging industry has been tasked with generating recycling rate targets for the next five years to 2014.
“The paper industry is historically cyclical and its challenge is to establish attainable targets and come up with a plan to use the increased volumes of recycled paper in times when demand is low,” she explains.
The amount of recovered paper collected reportedly increases every year, with paper recovery at over one-million tons a year in 2008.
Impending Water Shortages
Molony explains that the sector has always been aware that it operates in a water-scarce environment. Tree planting is regulated and trees for commercial use can only be planted after a water licence has been issued by the Department of Water Affairs, and where water is available.
“Forestry uses 1% of the land in South Africa and only 3% of its water, compared with many forms of agriculture that use 80% of the land and 62% of the water. “The greatest water savings would come through more efficient water use at municipal level,” she says.
“The industry reuses its water many times and is constantly working to reduce its water footprint. It is aware that most of the available water in the country has been allocated and that there are limited opportunities for building new dams. “Some of the mills are, therefore, working closely with local government to assist in recycling municipal water. Some mills have used recycled municipal water for many years and other mills are investigating similar opportunities,” she says.
Pamsa hopes that the licensing and environ- mental-impact assessment for about additional hectarage 40 000 ha of land in the Eastern Cape and in KwaZulu-Natal will be completed this year.
“Effectively, we are fast reaching the threshold of further efficiency gains, from adaptive research in the forestry end of the business to fibre development in the pulp and paper end. An increase in the area under plantation is definitely needed.
“If government’s commitment made in the Forest Sectors Charter Council, signed in May 2008, to make 100 000 ha of land available for planting timber over the following eight years, is fulfilled, then not only will the rural areas be uplifted, but the industry will also be strengthened,” she says.
Meanwhile, Pamsa is cautiously optimistic about this year. “The pulp and paper industry has always been a cyclical one and the world recession last year did not help matters. “However, it is a resilient industry that added about R2-billion to the country’s balance of payments last year, without government subsidies or incentives and practically zero trade tariffs,” she concludes.