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Africa|Environment|Industrial|Innovation|Manufacturing|Packaging|Paper|System|Technology|Manufacturing |Packaging|Products
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Sustainability trend creates opportunities for paper producers

An image of a paper ream at a paper mill

THE CIRCLE OF FIBRE On average, the country recovers 1.1-million tonnes of paper and paper packaging each year, with 75% to 80% of the fibre going back into local production. More than half of the country’s locally manufactured paper is made from recycled paper fibre

29th March 2024

     

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The pulp and paper manufacturing industry holds a meaningful position in the landscape of South Africa’s industrial sector, says industry association Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA).

As the backbone of numerous sectors, “its vitality is paramount to South Africa’s economic growth and sustainability”, the association states.

Last year, South Africa produced 3.8-million tonnes of paper and pulp, and manufactured R50-billion worth of paper products. The sector contributed R10.8-billion to balance of trade, largely owing to pulp exports.

The association notes that the mounting emphasis on sustainability presents the sector with opportunities for innovation and differentiation “especially when it comes to packaging and material substitution, novel and functional cellulose composites and the beneficiation of by-products and side streams such as sugars, lignin and recovered chemicals”.

This is evidenced by the 2023 global Two Sides ‘Trend Tracker Survey’ – a biennial consumer research study that seeks to understand consumer perceptions towards print and paper products, the environment, reading habits, and packaging preferences.

According to the study, some 58% of South African consumers prefer products ordered online to be delivered in paper packaging, while 56% are actively taking steps to increase their use of paper packaging. A significant 77% of people said they would actively support retailers who offer a packaging return system, while 60% would buy more from retailers who remove plastic from their packaging.

Substitution, therefore, is a priority, with brands moving to replace fossil-fuel derived materials with low-carbon substrates. Moreover, harvested wood products have a significant opportunity for climate change mitigation. “Not only do these products store carbon, but the sequestration of carbon dioxide also expands when new trees are planted after a harvesting cycle,” PAMSA avers.

It adds that packaging production, demand and consumption usually follow gross domestic product growth, which means that, when the economy is slow, demand for packaging slumps.

Overall, 2023 saw a 0.6% dip in the production of paper, board, packaging, and tissue products, however this was offset by a 5% uptick in pulp production.

Local newsprint production and apparent consumption has also continued its decline as consumers turn to online news media.

On the other hand, tissues saw a 3% increase in production to 281 000 t in 2023.

However, PAMSA cautions that tissue mills are directly affected by the decline in office paper consumption because used office paper is used as a raw material.

“As a sector, we need to drive the recycling of office paper supported by extended producer responsibility programmes of paper-related producer responsibility organisations.”

Like many industries worldwide, South Africa’s pulp and paper sector faces a myriad of challenges and opportunities.

Nevertheless PAMSA believes that, by embracing sustainability, investing in technology, and fostering collaboration, South Africa’s manufacturers can position themselves for long-term success in the global market.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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