The Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA) has launched Fibre Circle, a voluntary producer responsibility organisation (PRO) aimed at facilitating extended producer responsibility (EPR) among paper manufacturers, importers, brand owners and retailers.
“The shift away from plastic and single-use packaging has created a wave of interest in alternatives such as packaging paper and liquid board packaging,” said Jane Molony, PAMSA executive director at the Fibre Circle roadshows during August in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
During the events, Anele Sololo, general manager of RecyclePaperZA, the South African paper recycling association, shared that South Africa recovered 1.285 million of recyclable paper in 2018 putting the country’s paper recovery rate at 71.7% – well above the global average of 59.3%.
“Our sector also uses more than 90% of this recovered paper for the local beneficiation of new paper, packaging and tissue, while the balance of waste paper is exported.”
Fibre Circle (trading name of PAMDEV NPC) has been set up as a public benefit organisation that will administer and drive various projects to divert paper and paper-based packaging from South Africa’s landfills. It has also been registered with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (formerly Environmental Affairs).
“As a sector with great renewability and recyclability credentials, this is another proactive step to support the principles of the circular economy,” Molony said. “Paper is made from farmed trees, which absorb carbon as they grow. This carbon remains locked in the products – whether a plank of wood, A4 copy paper or a paper cup. By recycling paper products, we ensure that this carbon is kept locked up for longer, thus mitigating climate change.”
“Fibre Circle members can assist us by pooling resources towards sustainable industry-managed projects that will ensure that more paper and paper packaging is recovered from consumers and diverted from landfill, more people are trained in the collection and recovery of paper and in turn more jobs are created, something that our country desperately needs.”
According to a report released by Statistics South Africa in 2018, 90% of an estimated 59 million tonnes of general waste produced in 2011 ended up in landfills, while only 10% was recycled.
“For too long we have operated in a linear economy and we are seeing the effects through climate disruption, pollution and burgeoning landfills – this is why EPR is so important,” noted Molony.
What is EPR?
EPR is essentially about producers taking active responsibility for a product once a consumer has finished with it – whether it’s the new computer screen or the box it came in.
Effective EPR is not a one-size-fits-all and it needs to be practical and local. “All packaging has an impact and it is important for companies and consumers to be aware of the responsibilities they have towards designing and manufacturing packaging for South Africa’s recycling capacity, raising awareness among consumers about separation-at-source and investing in programmes that will support collection, recycling, training, development, research and innovation,” explained Molony.
Tackling difficult-to-recycle packaging
The recovery of difficult-to-recycle products – such as liquid packaging board (paper cups and beverage cartons) and release liners (backing for adhesive labels) – requires the support of manufacturers, brand owners and retailers.
“Unlike countries such as Australia, South Africa has the technology to recycle coffee cups and milk and juice cartons,” said Molony, adding that Gayatri Paper in Germiston and Mpact Recycling in Springs are the only two mills with the ability to recycle these products.
However there is a lack of awareness among consumers that paper cups and milk cartons belong in the paper recycling stream and not in the bin.
Biodegradability and compostability are not always the answer
Many brands are moving to biodegradability as the perceived quick win however a product is only biodegradable or compostable under certain conditions (temperature, moisture, air flow). These conditions don’t exist in the anaerobic environment of a landfill.
“As the paper industry, we want the great fibre that has been used to make cups and beverage cartons so the first prize would be to recover these products through established recycling programmes,” explains Molony. “Biodegradability is still very linear, with the end product – compost – being a lower value than recycled packaging.”
Make the circle bigger
The Section 28 Notice published on 6 December 2017 by the then Department of Environmental Affairs required the paper and packaging sector to write and submit an industry waste management plan by 6 September 2018. PAMSA facilitated the submission of the paper and paper packaging plan while also submitting one under the auspices of Packaging SA.
While there has been very little movement since the submission, Fibre Circle is calling on producers to become members of the organisation.