Six paper recycling mistakes you might be making

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Recovered paper – the paper and cardboard from our recycling bins – is a valuable raw material and South Africa has been using it as an alternative fibre in papermaking since 1920. 
 
Around 1.4 million tonnes of recyclable paper and paper packaging was diverted from landfill in 2016. This is the equivalent to the weight of 280,000 African elephants and the same volume would cover 254 soccer fields or fill 1,680 Olympic-sized swimming pools!
 
Although South Africa recycles around 68.4% of paper, cardboard and beverage cartons, less than 10% of offices and businesses recycle their used paper products. The Paper Recycling Association of South Africa (PRASA) outlines six recycling blunders with some helpful tips to improve recycling at home, at school or in the office.

Mistake 1: Recycling paper to ‘save trees’

A common, but incorrect, reason used for recycling is ‘saving trees’. However in South Africa, paper is produced from farmed trees. Some 600 million trees are grown over 762,000 hectares for the very purpose of making pulp and paper. 
 
“If it wasn’t for commercially grown trees, our indigenous forests would have been eradicated years ago to meet our fibre, fuel and furniture needs,” explains PRASA operations director Ursula Henneberry. “Sustainable, commercial forests have a vital role to play in curbing deforestation and mitigating climate change.”
 
Trees are planted in rotation and harvested for pulp and papermaking. The area is then replanted with new trees. This is what makes the paper we source from wood renewable. 
 
Know the right reasons:
  • Recycling is a space saver: one tonne of paper saves three cubic metres of landfill space – and the associated costs. 
  • Recycling creates jobs – Big and small companies as well as informal collectors make money (and employ people) through the recovery and processing of clean, quality recyclable paper.
  • Given that land suitable for the commercial growing of trees is limited, virgin fibre is supplemented with recovered paper. On the other hand, an injection of virgin fibre is also needed in the papermaking process because paper fibres shorten and weaken each time they are recycled. 
“If it wasn’t for commercially grown trees, our indigenous forests would have been eradicated years ago to meet our fibre, fuel and furniture needs.” Ursula Henneberry, PRASA. Credit: Mondi
“If it wasn’t for commercially grown trees, our indigenous forests would have been eradicated years ago to meet our fibre, fuel and furniture needs.” Ursula Henneberry, PRASA. Credit: Mondi

Mistake 2: Believing that paper is bad for the environment

Working forests provide clean air, clean water and the managed conservation of wetlands, grasslands and biodiversity. 
 
Farmed trees are efficient carbon sinks. Every year, South Africa’s commercial forests are estimated to capture 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases, in turn releasing 15 million tonnes of life-giving oxygen…. Memory jog back to that primary school science lesson on photosynthesis.
 
The carbon remains locked up even after the wood is chipped, pulped and made into the many items we use every day. This is a good reason to recycle as it keeps this carbon locked up for even longer. Sent to landfill, paper will naturally degrade along with wet waste and add to unnecessary emissions. 

 

Working forests create jobs, produce timber for paper and wood products and help to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration. Credit: Sappi
Working forests create jobs, produce timber for paper and wood products and help to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration. Credit: Sappi

MISTAKE 3: PUTTING NON-RECYCLABLE PAPER PRODUCTS INTO THE RECYCLING BIN

Even though they are made of paper, a number of items are not suitable for recycling due to contamination or elements such as waxes, foils, laminates and glues: dirty paper plates, cigarette butts, tissue and toilet paper, paper towel, sticky notes, carbon paper, laminated paper and dog food bags. 
 
Know your recyclables
• Download printable posters on www.recyclepaper.co.za
 
RECYCLABLE
• Magazines and brochures, including glossy varieties
• Newspapers 
• Office and shredded paper, envelopes
• Milk, beverage and food cartons (such as Tetra Pak and SIG Combibloc liquid packaging)
• Cardboard boxes of any kind – dry food, cosmetic and medicine boxes; roll cores, packing cartons (flattened)
• Old telephone directories and books
• Envelopes
• Paper giftwrap 
 
NOT RECYCLABLE
• Wet or dirty paper and cardboard
• Used paper plates, disposable nappies, tissues and toilet paper
• Foil gift wrapping; carbon and laminated paper
Know your recyclables. Credit: istockphoto
Know your recyclables. Credit: istockphoto
Wet or dirty paper and cardboard is not suitable for recycling Credit: istockphoto
Wet or dirty paper and cardboard is not suitable for recycling Credit: istockphoto

MISTAKE 4: FOOD CONTAMINATION

When wet waste – food waste, cigarette butts and soiled take-away containers – ends up in the paper recycling bin, this contaminates the paper and reduces its value. Paper also starts to degrade and reduces the strength of the fibres.  
 
Fix it with a two- or multi-bin system:
  • Place receptacles for paper recycling next to bins for food, liquid and non-recyclable waste – with clear and simple messaging and graphics.
  • Communicate the importance of waste separation. 

 

Keep food waste separate from paper recycling. Credit: istockphoto
Keep food waste separate from paper recycling. Credit: istockphoto

MISTAKE 5: MAKING IT DIFFICULT AND TIME-CONSUMING TO RECYCLE

We are all human. Nobody likes to walk too far to throw something away. An Australian study around container proximity showed that only 28% of paper was recycled where recycling containers were centrally located, but when recycling containers were placed in close proximity (on desks etc.) to participants, 85% to 94% of all recyclable paper was recycled. 
 
Make it easier by putting small paper recycling receptacles in key locations:
  • In the kitchen and bathrooms
  • At your desk
  • At printing/copying stations
  • In meeting and break rooms
  • In reception
Equip workstations with paper recycling bins as well as a general refuse bin. Credit: istockphoto
Equip workstations with paper recycling bins as well as a general refuse bin. Credit: istockphoto

MISTAKE 6: NOT KNOWING WHAT TO DO WITH, OR WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR RECYCLABLES

You have collected all this paper, and after a while, it all ends up in the general rubbish or cleaning teams discard it with general refuse. If waste streams are mixed, the recyclable paper will be contaminated and become worthless – this renders the recycling programme fruitless. 
 
Put the right systems and people in place
• Involve cleaners and domestic helpers in recycling initiatives. 
• Nominate a champion to monitor the recycling programme. At home, get the kids involved!
• Show your progress.
• Set-up a sheltered area to keep recycled paper clean and dry. 
• Find a recycling collection agent that meets your needs – a big company, a smaller business or an informal collector. 
• Support a local school or charity’s recycling fundraising initiative 
 
Let’s get recycling.
Find a recycling agent that suits your needs. Credit: Sappi Refibre
Find a recycling agent that suits your needs. Credit: Sappi Refibre