SOUTH AFRICA – The Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA) has announced that South Africa recycled 1.15 million tonnes of paper and paper packaging in 2021, representing a paper recovery rate of 61.4%.

According to PAMSA, South Africa has a largely successful paper recycling economy, with a five-year average paper recovery rate of about 70%.

“The 2021 recovery rate reflects a 9% drop on the previous year, which can be attributed to Covid-disrupted supply chains coming out of 2020 and into 2021, as well as a shift in the economy and buying trends,” says Jane Molony, Executive Director of PAMSA.

“The country has been using recycled paper as a raw material in tissue and packaging products since as early as 1920.”

The 9% drop does not mean that the country is recycling less paper, says the organization. In fact, there was marginally more paper collected in 2021 than in 2020 (1.10 million tonnes).

The consumption of paper and paper packaging increased year on year by 17%, which knocked the percentage out, adds PAMSA.

The year 2021 also saw more paper products being put on the market as brands shifted from plastic to paper packaging.

The association says that it is cautiously optimistic about the 2022 recycling statistics, as quarter one’s numbers are showing an uptick.

“Waste paper is a commodity and subject to market dynamics and cycles,” explains Molony. “Throughout the world, there has been a significant demand for recycled fibre.”

According to PAMSA statistics, the country produced 2.1 million tonnes of paper and paper packaging in 2021, imported 760 000 tonnes and exported 545 000 tonnes. This put the apparent consumption of paper and paper packaging at 2.31 million tonnes.

Pre-pandemic, some of the South African recyclers and manufacturers secured warehouse space for the waste paper so that they could continue to buy stock and meet market demands, adds PAMSA.

“We entered the pandemic period with a surplus of waste paper, however in 2021, this surplus was depleted. This knocked the recovery rate percentage down,” says Molony.

The important aspect to note is that paper has not ended up in landfills. It is still within the system as stock.

Key to the success of paper recycling is separation-at-source by consumers, including businesses, schools and academic institutions, and the infrastructure to support the collection from consumers.

“We also need to close the gaps between our technical capacity to recycle, infrastructure to recover and collect and, importantly, awareness, education and behavior change among consumers,” concludes Molony.

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