Register to comment and receive news in your inboxRegister or Log in

Unpacking paper recycling in South Africa

Paper recycling is the process of collecting used paper and paper-based products, such as cardboard boxes and office paper, and processing them mechanically and chemically for use in new products like packaging and tissue.

It is a complex activity involving citizens, informal waste collectors, small businesses, buy-back centres and paper recycling mills.

Waste paper is a raw material and thus has value. Unfortunately, a lot of useful paper gets contaminated by food, liquids and other waste in refuse bins, reducing its suitability for recycling and thus its value.

Know the difference

Recyclable VS Locally recycled


Recyclable means a product can be recycled into a new or similar product either via a standard or specialised recycling process. Specialised processes are adapted, for instance, to handle larger amounts of non-fibre materials as well as fibre materials that need dedicated pulping conditions or deinking steps.

There are a large number of paper products that are recyclable using standard recycling processes. There are also some products that are conditionally compatible with the standard recycling process, meaning that those materials can affect the efficiency of the process and the output quality of the recyclate. The mill still processes these materials by blending them with higher quality grades. Furthermore, there are some products that are not compatible with traditional or specialised processes, and require more research and development to enable efficient treatment and processing.

Locally recycled means that a product is recycled locally in South Africa using available technology. Recycling – whether paper, plastic, glass or tin – is a volumes-driven exercise. For a product to be recycled, it needs to be commercially viable to do so using standard recycling processes.


The separation of general waste from recyclables at the “source” of consumption – homes, offices, schools, retailers and factories – is one of the most important steps in recycling. This ensures that paper and paper packaging is kept dry and uncontaminated by wet waste.


The collection of recyclables entails several avenues and is often facilitated by waste pickers, small to medium sized enterprises, or waste merchants. They reclaim as much quality, saleable material that they can carry in one load and sell the recyclables at a buy-back centre.

Waste management companies have agreements with large businesses to collect their recyclables.

Sorting and baling

Different paper types are sorted and baled into categories. Different types of recycled paper call for specific ingredients depending on the function of new material such as paper packaging or tissue.

Once sorted, a particular paper grade is fed onto a conveyor and into a baling machine. These bales will be loaded onto a truck or conveyor, destined for a recycling mill.



Bales are loaded into a repulper into which water, de-inking agents and chemicals are added to soften paper fibres into a slurry.

The pulp is put through a series of screens to extract contaminants such as staples, sand, glues and tape. Once clean, pulp is sent to the paper machine for forming and drying.

The end products are jumbo reels of paper. These will be converted into various products.



Some mills may sell the reels to converters; others are integrated and will do the converting on-site.

Brown kraft paper can made into paper bags or linerboard and fluting for cardboard boxes. Jumbo reels of tissue paper are cut and wound into smaller rolls for consumer use.

These products eventually make their way to factories to be filled and shipped to supermarkets, for use in homes, offices or schools. And the process starts all over again.

Except for toilet paper of course. Toilet paper and other tissue products cannot be collected due to their form of disposal.