An interesting development as a result of Covid-19, lockdown and the slowed economy has been reduced availability of used white paper and secondary packaging such as cardboard boxes and newspapers.
This is according to South African paper recycling association RecyclePaperZA.
RecyclePaperZA GM Anele Sololo says the country’s paper recovery rate for 2019 is at 68.5% with 1.2-million tonnes of recyclable paper products diverted from landfill.
Although the paper recovery rate was down from 71.7% in 2018, this does not necessarily mean that the country is recycling less. “There is often a lag between consumer or industrial use and the recycling or manufacturing into new product,” explains Sololo.
The drop could also be attributed to companies holding stock of paper products and recovered paper for recycling or some waste traders holding stock until better export opportunities arise.
In 2019, there was also an increase in export sales of packaged agricultural and non-agricultural products to 280 000 t, which meant that less material was available for domestic recovery and recycling.
Sololo adds that 88% of recovered paper fibre was recycled locally into new products such as cardboard boxes, paper bags and tissue. The balance was exported.
“Contrary to late last year, we are now seeing reduced supply and increased demand for paper fibre,” says Sololo, adding that with offices and schools closed, less used office paper has been available for recycling. White paper is a staple in the production of tissue products.
With fewer newspapers in circulation during lockdown, there has been less of this grade available for use in moulded fibre products such as egg boxes and takeaway cup holders. “Sadly, we have also seen several magazine titles closing their doors.”
As economic activity increases, RecyclePaperZA members are hoping that the supply-demand ratio will even out. “In the meantime, we encourage South Africans to recycle all that they can,” exclaims Sololo.
The 1.2-million tonnes of paper and paper packaging collected last year would, when baled, stretch from Kempton Park to Cape Town if the bales were laid end to end, fill 1 442 Olympic swimming pools and cover 219 soccer pitches, one bale deep.
“More importantly, this recovered paper saved 3.6-million cubic metres of landfill space in 2019, provided an income for countless informal collectors and kept the local paper, packaging and tissue industry productive,” notes Sololo.
Among the most recycled paper-based items in 2019 were cardboard boxes at 71%, while office paper recovery and beverage cartons sit at 16% and 10% respectively. “We continue to work with our members, along with Fibre Circle, the producer responsibility organisation for our sector, to emphasise how important recycling is.”
Successful recycling goes far beyond putting something into a separate bin. It requires a collective effort – from producers and retailers who sell packaged products to consumers who use them, along with the recycling industry – from collectors to recycling mills.
“Each and every company and individual in South Africa can play a small part in ensuring that used paper, boxes, milk and juice cartons and paper cups get to the recycling mill and made into new products we use every day,” says Sololo.
The recycling economy not only provides an environmental service but also it preserves jobs and livelihoods and provides packaging and tissue manufacturers with raw material. Sololo notes that one job is sustained for every 40 t of paper recycled.
With National Recycling Day on Friday, September 18, now is as good a time as any for a business to start recycling, says RecyclePaperZA.