South Africa’s paper recycling rates match up to many developed economies.

The volume of paper and paper packaging recovered globally for recycling has increased substantially over the past decade.

In 2000, the Paper Recycling Association of South Africa (Prasa) reported a 38% paper recovery rate, rising to 59% in 2011. The association had projected paper recycling rates to increase to 63% by the end of 2017, but by December 2015 the paper and paper packaging industry exceeded this with 66% of the nation’s recoverable paper and cardboard being recovered for recycling during 2015.

SA ahead of the global average

The 1.2 million tonnes of recyclable paper and paper packaging diverted from landfill equates to 1,435 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

This means that over the past decade, paper recycling in South Africa has improved by almost a third. This puts the country well ahead of the global average of 57.9%, according ot the International Council of Forest and Paper Association – ICFPA, 2015.

In the context of this local increasing trend, recycling company Mpact processed more than 500,000 tonnes of paper and plastic bottles in 2015.

Mpact said it has made substantial investments when it comes to recycling. This is ultimately to expand its own collections of paper and plastic, and to increase recycling rates of these materials in South Africa.

Mpact recycling facilities

The aim of the various Mpact recycling initiatives is to increase the material available for the Felixton mill, Mpact Polymers and for the recently commissioned liquid-packaging recycling plant at the Springs paper mill.

Once completed the R765 million Felixton mill upgrade will replace bagasse fibre with recycled fibre and the mill’s capacity will increase by 60,000 tonnes per annum, with a total capacity of 215,000 tonnes per annum.

The R350 million investment at Mpact Polymers will see the plant processing up to 29,000 tonnes per annum of PET bottles – to be made back into new PET bottles for the beverage industry.

Lastly, the liquid packaging pulping equipment at Mpact’s Springs mill will process approximately 25,000 tonnes per annum of cartons, sacks and bags, and cups. All of these equating to a very real need for recyclables including paper packaging, PET bottles and milk and juice cartons.

Saving landfill space

“The growth in paper recovery rates is a promising trend for the country because of the environmental benefits,” Prasa said. “Recycling lessens the impact on already pressured landfill sites since the need for landfilling is avoided.”

According to Prasa, one tonne of recovered paper saves three cubic metres of landfill space.

“By recycling we are slowing the need for new landfill space and extending the lifespan of landfills. Cutting the amount of waste going into landfill reduces the cost to municipalities of acquiring additional landfill sites,” John Hunt, Mpact Recycling MD said.

Recycling rates

While the global recycling average has increased by just 1.5% over the past four years (ICFPA: 2011 to 2015), South Africa’s rate has increased by 7%.

Mpact said it is therefore an accolade that South Africa ranks firmly among the developed market rates, even though it does not have the same ease of recycling for the everyday consumer that exists in developed countries, such as recycling bins in malls, walkways and substations.

“In South Africa, we still have to go out of our way to recycle, making it harder to improve the country’s recycling rate, however, we are getting there through programmes such as the Ronnie Recycler schools and kerbside programmes,” Hunt said.

Measuring up with the best

South Africa’s rate of 66% of recoverable paper and cardboard compares well with the UK’s rate of slightly over 65%, and the European average of 72%, according to ICFPA. The European Recovered Paper Council (ERPC) indicates that the recycled amount of paper is 1.5 times higher than in 1998.

According to the American Forest & Paper Association, 66.8% of paper consumed in the US was recovered for recycling in 2015. Its annual paper recovery rate has nearly doubled since 1990 and the industry has set its paper recycling goal at 70% by 2020.

Developing countries, and many developed countries, do not perform as well, such as Brazil at 47% and China at 44.7%. An article in The Hindu Times puts the level of recovery and utilisation of waste paper by paper mills in India at 27% of the total paper and paperboard consumed.

The world’s top performer is Australia at an astounding 85%, “a figure which suggests there is still so much more we can do in South Africa”, Hunt said.