The Paper Recycling Association of South Africa (Prasa) aims to increase the recovery of recyclable paper products to 70% by 2020 through raising awareness about the importance of keeping paper products in a recyclable state throughout their life cycles.
Recovery rates of recyclable paper products reached 64% (1.06-million tons of a recoverable 1.6-million tons) in South Africa in 2014. To achieve the 2020 goal, Prasa operations director Ursula Henneberry says the paper industry needs to increase its access to adequate quantities of clean, quality, recyclable fibre from the waste stream.
“The extra tonnage of recyclable fibre will be used as raw material for paper manufacture. The necessary investments have been made, and paper mills in South Africa have sufficient capacity to absorb the extra recyclable fibre,” she claims.
However, Henneberry indicates that increasing the amount of recyclable fibre available to the paper industry requires intervention at the early and end stages of paper product life cycles.
She claims that planning for recycling should happen at the packaging design phase and when paper products are converted. It is crucial that collaboration between packaging designers, marketers and engineers is facilitated to ensure the recyclability of paper packaging.
“Paper packaging is inherently renewable and recyclable, but its recyclability can be considerably lessened or altogether lost when aspects, such as foils, nonsoluble glues and coatings, are applied,” Henneberry elaborates.
Collaboration on Separation at Source Key
Separating paper products from other refuse when they are discarded remains crucial for improving the recovery rates of recyclable paper products. “Separation at source is a key area of intervention for recycling in South Africa, where only about 5% of urban households and only 8% of businesses recycle their paper,” she states.
Henneberry further comments that the importance of separation at source is emphasised because higher prices are paid for separated, clean and good-quality recyclables.
Engagement with government is crucial in Prasa’s aim to improve waste management, especially regarding waste legislation, although Henneberry explains that policies need to be formulated with caution.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) systems, where brand owners take responsibility for the entire life cycle of the product including its post-life disposal, should not be a preferred choice where existing markets for collection and reuse of recovered paper are efficient and effective. EPR systems that interfere with functioning markets could do more harm than good and result in less paper being collected for recycling.
“Recovered fibre markets are complex and dynamic, and are not served by regulations that create barriers or inhibit the collection process by making it onerous and expensive for small and micro- businesses to establish themselves,” Henneberry says.
She stresses that caution should be exercised in ensuring that income opportunities for individuals and small businesses in the developing South African economy are not stymied.
Moreover, the implementation of a two-bag system for households (one bag for wet waste and the other for separated recyclables) by municipalities; more vigorous education of households and businesses regarding recycling; the establishment of small and medium-sized enterprises in the collection, recovery and sorting of recyclables; better collection of office paper and magazines; and support from convertors and brand owners by printing clear and simple messages on paper packaging in raising awareness on recycling would all assist Prasa in meeting its targets.
“Prasa advocates a circular paper economy, in which every phase of the paper and packaging value chain focuses on the final destination of the product – the recycling plant. The benefits of paper recycling are all-encompassing,” Henneberry says, listing environmental, economic and social advantages. She urges that recycling should remain a strategic imperative supported by the public and private sectors