Paper recycling in South Africa
- South Africa has been using waste paper to produce paper since 1920.
- Paper can be made from virgin fibre (wood of new trees), recovered fibre (recycled paper) and bagasse (waste from sugar cane processing).
- In the case of virgin fibre, this comes from sustainably farmed trees – similar to wheat for our bread and corn for maize meal.
- These trees are planted, and once mature – after about 15-20 years – they are harvested and new saplings are replanted in their place. This is what makes the paper products that we source from wood renewable.
- At an environmental level, working forests are good for the environment, providing clean air, clean water, wildlife habitats; renewable, carbon-neutral energy and carbon storage.
- At a socio-economic level, the growing and harvesting of trees, making paper products and recycling them provides sustainable jobs for millions.
Why is paper recycling important?
Sustainable supply of fibre
- South Africa is a water-scarce country with limited hectares of land available for timber plantations which is why paper recycling has always been essential to ensure a sustainable local paper industry.
- Virgin fibre is supplemented with recovered paper. Conversely, we will always need an injection of virgin fibre into the paper recycling process as paper is not infinitely recyclable.
- Recycled paper is a valuable raw material that needs to be kept clean and dry – which is why separation-at-source (i.e. keeping it separate from your general rubbish) is so important. If it gets wet or dirty, it starts to degrades and loses its value and quality.
- Big and small companies as well as informal collectors make money (and employ people) through the recovery and processing of clean, quality recyclable paper.
- Add to this the jobs of those who design, manufacture and operate advanced technologies that make paper recycling possible.
- A tonne of recycled paper can save up to three cubic metres of landfill space and is used to make new paper products that we use every day.
- Paper buried in a landfill after mixing with other waste will degrade and release gases such as methane, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.