Skip to content


These paper-based products are recyclable!

  • Cardboard boxes – brown cardboard boxes and containers
  • Cardboard packaging – dry food, cosmetic and medicine boxes; roll cores, packing cartons
  • Paper shopping bags
  • Envelopes
  • Magazines and brochures, including glossy varieties
  • Milk, beverage and food cartons (liquid board packaging)
  • Newspapers
  • Office paper
  • Old telephone directories and books
  • Paper cups
  • Paper gift wrapping
  • Shredded paper is recyclable, although not always recommended as it is difficult to bale and it shortens the paper fibres

YES! Milk and juice cartons are recyclable as are paper cups. Using hydrapulping technology, the paper fibre is separated from the plastic and foil layers.

Non Recyclable

These items are not recyclable due to contaminationfinishes (laminates and foils) or lack of processing facilities in South Africa.

  • Carbon paper
  • Foil gift wrapping
  • Laminated paper
  • Used cement bags
  • Used dog food bags
  • Used paper plates, disposable nappies, tissues and toilet paper
  • Wax-coated, foil-lined or laminated boxes (unless stipulated)

Learn some good garbage habits under our How to Recycle section.

Contaminants – or more importantly “non-recyclable materials” – such as those indicated above can affect the reprocessing of the paper. For this reason, paper should ideally be kept free from such materials. Considerable research is being done in South Africa to deal with some of these materials. Ideally all players within the paper chain including packaging converters and printers should be mindful of the current constraints.

Paper Recycling and…

Liquid Board Packaging (Beverage Cartons and Paper Cups)

Liquid board packaging is used to make food and beverage cartons, paper cups, popcorn containers and other food service packaging. These products are recycled in South Africa albeit only in Gauteng, however they are collected nationally.

Cartons are made up of a combination of paper board, polyethylene and aluminium (PolyAlu) or paper board and a polyethylene (PE) plastic lining. Paper board is the dominant component and is made from virgin paperboard (never been recycled) making it attractive recoverable paper fibre.

Paper cups are also a form of liquid packaging. Cups are made mostly from paperboard. A thin layer of PE lines the inside, making them liquid proof and providing function.

Recycle your cartons

Ink coverage

For white paper which is largely used for tissue products or blended into fine paper production, mills have de-inking plants which can deal with a normal amount of ink coverage. As with other contaminants, excessive ink coverage can cause bottlenecks or interruptions in production. Heavily inked papers will be recycled but as a lower grade paper.

The system deals with water-based adhesives without difficulty, but latex or hotmelt adhesives can stick to the cylinders on the paper machines, causing holes in the paper produced. Such contaminants are known as ‘stickies’. This is more serious for lightweight papers and tissue. Some of the paper mills have upgraded their equipment to deal with the adhesives (hotmelt glues) found in spines of magazines but these could be a problem for smaller paper producers.

Laminates and wax layers

Liners are applied separately from the board production. Recycling companies don’t particularly want a wax material as this would melt back into solution during the pulping process and would be very difficult to remove. The wax would form into stickies and cause runnability problems on the paper and board machines.

Extensive research is carried out by the various centres to improve both the environmental sustainability and the performance of the packaging.

Wet-strength additives

Certain papers (e.g. potato sacks) contain additives to prevent the paper breaking up in moist conditions. These are recyclable in a liquid packaging recycling plant however they are not commonly recycled. An inhibiting factor for recycling is identification and sorting. Ideally packaging should clearly state that it contains wet strength additives.


Compostability or biodegradability refers to environments with specific conditions such as those found in industrial composting facilities (airflow, temperature and moisture) and it is unlikely that these conditions will occur naturally.  While this lining will biodegrade over time, unless in these specific environments, this might be a much longer period than anticipated. 

Some paper or cardboard products may be labelled as biodegradable or compostable. In the case of food packaging, this means that the paperboard is coated with a starch-based lining called polylactic acid (PLA) instead of a plastic lining.

A product that is designed to decompose and break down, generally speaking, biodegradable or compostable plastic is not suitable for recycling as it “contaminates” the plastic recycling stream – if an end product is made with non-biodegradable plastic and biodegradable plastic, this could reduce the integrity of the product, with parts of it breaking down. 

The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Inc. (NCASI) has put together a useful summary of research on paper and its compostability.