With a 45% share of the South African paper recycling market, and collecting in excess of 460 000 tons of recovered paper a year, John Hunt, MD of Mpact Recycling, believes the division is well-placed to meet the increasing demand for recycled fibre.

This will be particularly important following the recent announcement that JSE-listed Mpact is upgrading its Felixton paper mill. This mill, near Empangeni in KwaZulu-Natal, will use only recycled material once the R765-million project is complete in 2017.

The mill currently uses a mixture of bagasse fibre (a by-product from sugar cane processing) and recovered fibre from Mpact Recycling.

Recycled paper is an important component of the manufacture of paper-based packaging products. The recovered paper collected by Mpact Recycling is supplied to the Group’s three paper mills. It is processed into recycled-based cartonboard and containerboard for sale to the country’s packaging industry, notably to corrugated and folding carton converters (including Mpact’s Corrugated division). Recycled papers are also marketed for other industrial applications.

“Recycling is not just a ‘green-oriented’ activity but has become big business. In fact, the rate at which we recycle paper and board in South Africa is close to 60%, which is good compared to international standards.

“However, we are optimistic that recycling rates in South Africa can rise still further. Collecting paper and board for recycling needs labour and we are confident of generating more employment as recycling rates improve,” says Hunt.

Mpact Recycling has for a number of years had an established infrastructure in place to collect used paper and board. This operation covers primarily the largest metropolitan areas and includes collections from retailers, office parks and many residential areas.

Hunt says Mpact Recycling has also initiated projects to develop collections in deep rural areas and in former township areas. These initiatives are based on assisting local entrepreneurs to set up businesses and providing support for them through the provision of equipment and purchases of collected paper.

The recycling industry in South Africa currently provides jobs for about 100 000 people. Mpact has helped over 40 entrepreneurs start recycling businesses, providing them with equipment and training. The equipment provided includes bins, bags, trolleys and balers along with training and skills transfer from Mpact teams that work in the communities. The company provides further support through buy-back centres that purchase material and has set up sorting and baling facilities that provide further work opportunities.

Hunt says recycling represents an opportunity to create economic activity and employment in South Africa, especially for unskilled workers.

“The collection of recyclable materials is not an activity that can be outsourced or moved to another city, province or even country. This means that if economically sustainable solutions are in place, the jobs created in collecting recyclables will continue as long as people continue to generate waste,” says Hunt.