In 2021, South Africans helped to recycle 1.15 million tonnes of paper and paper packaging. To put this figure into perspective: the bales of paper recovered in 2021 would stretch a distance of 1,357km if the bales were laid end to end – that’s Johannesburg to Cape Town!
While South Africa has a thriving paper recycling economy, there is much more than can be done at a household, school and business level to turn waste into wealth, especially for informal waste collectors and small recycling businesses.
Recyclables have a value – for the collectors, it is monetary. For paper, packaging and tissue manufacturers, old paper products are the ingredients for new products.
There are many products that we touch or use every day that need to stay out of the rubbish bin and be kept separate for recycling. This is called separation-at-source – by keeping paper and paper packaging clean and dry, we maximise its potential for re-use and divert it from landfills.
Separation-at-source starts with the small act of putting a paper-only bin or box in the kitchen, and filling it with your paper recycling. One tonne of recovered paper will save three cubic metres of landfill space – which is fast becoming scarce.
Be kind to both the planet and waste collectors, and put a bag of your clean recyclables next to your bin on rubbish day. This will save collectors a lot of time and is more hygienic for them. It is always a good idea to check with your local collector what he or she collects, as they won’t take recyclables that they cannot sell to a buy-back centre.
Common paper recyclables collected by waste collectors:
Some paper items might be recyclable but not taken by waste collectors – you can take these to a local recycling centre. Apart from paper items, many collectors will take PET cold drink bottles, fabric softener bottles, tins and cans.
Please do not add these to recycling:
Since 2003, the South African paper industry has diverted more than 20 million tonnes of paper and paper packaging from landfill. This has saved 62 million cubic metres of landfill space. If baled, the amount of paper would go around the equator 1.5 times.