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Paper Recycling in South Africa

Author: Ursula Henneberry - Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA)

( Article Type: Explanation )

Paper recycling

Recycled paper fibre has been used as a raw material in paper, paper packaging and tissue production since 1920. Some 65% of South African paper mills depend on recycled fibre and a number of them use it as their only fibre source.


Why is paper recycling important?

Paper recycling is a vital link in the renewability chain, yet thousands of tonnes of recyclable paper end up in domestic refuse, rendering it unusable.

  • Recycling one tonne of recovered paper saves three cubic metres of landfill space.
  • Paper recycling reduces pollution in two particular ways:
    • Paper is made from trees. These trees are specially planted, grown and harvested in cycles – just like an agricultural crop. Through photosynthesis, the trees absorb CO2 and convert it into oxygen. The carbon remains locked up in the wood fibre – even when the wood is chipped, pulped and made into paper. By recycling paper, the carbon is kept out of the atmosphere for longer.
    • In a landfill, paper degrades along with other food waste, adding to the levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the air we breathe.
  • Something of value is not waste. The collection, sorting and processing of recyclables plays a vital role in formal and informal job creation – from the street collectors to bigger companies who collect, sort and manufacture recycled paper products.

Did you know? 

  • Sterile (aseptic) cartons used for packaging products such as milk, juice and custard are 100% recyclable. They comprise 75% virgin paper board and are an important source of fibre.


How to Recycle Paper

Separation at source (households, schools and businesses) is key to the recovery of clean, high quality, uncontaminated paper. Collectors receive higher prices for separated, good quality recyclables.

  • Keep paper clean, dry and separate from other recyclables and wet waste.
  • Take a moment to remove any non-paper packaging from your paperboard packaging.
  • Invest in a paper-only bin or box at home.
  • At the office, place paper-only bins at desks, near photocopiers/printers and in communal kitchens.
  • Where to Recycle
  • There are a number of ways in which you can ensure your paper recycling doesn’t go to waste.
  • Drop-off centres near your home or office.
  • Kerbside collection programmes.
  • Community centres, churches or schools can benefit financially from a paper recycling programme.
  • Keep recyclables for an informal collector who walks your neighbourhood every week.
  • Contract the services of a small recycling business. Visit for a comprehensive database of recycling programmes.


What to Recycle

These paper and packaging items can be recycled easily in South Africa:

  • Magazines and brochures including glossy varieties
  • Newspapers
  • Office and shredded paper as well as envelopes
  • Cardboard of any kind – cereal and dry food boxes, cosmetic and medicine boxes (as well as information leaflets), toilet and kitchen roll cores, packing boxes and cartons, corrugated packaging for electronic equipment and appliances
  • Paper giftwrap and boxes (remove ribbons, sticky tape and embellishments)
  • Liquid packaging – milk, juice and food cartons.


What NOT to Recyclable

These items are not recyclable due to contamination from residues, finishes (waterproof laminates and foils) or lack of processing facilities in South Africa.

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


Further Information 

The Paper Recycling Association of South Africa (PRASA) focuses on creating and upholding a culture of recycling and achieves this though focused education and awareness programmes within schools, businesses, municipalities, government and consumers.

With financial assistance from the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing sector education and training authority (FP&M Seta), PRASA also provides Entrepreneurship Training. This has yielded thousands of new paper collectors, many co-operatives and a number of entrepreneurs. Tetra Pak and SIG Combibloc Obeikan are members of PRASA and together the recyclability of aseptic cartons is publicised.


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