How to recycle paper effectively

September is Recycling Month and with National Clean-Up and Recycle Week taking place from September 13 to 18, there’s no better time than now to pick up some top tips!

It is estimated that only 6.1% of urban households in South Africa actively participate in recycling – and even the most environmentally conscientious among them make recycling mistakes.

Fibre Circle, the producer responsibility organisation for the SA paper and paper packaging sector, explains some common recycling mistakes below and offers tips on how to make sure that paper and cardboard reach recycling companies in a good, clean state so that they can be reprocessed.

Mistake 1: Putting non-recyclable paper products into the recycling bin

Even though they’re made of paper, several items aren’t suitable for recycling due to food contamination or elements such as waxes, foils, laminates, and glues. These products shouldn’t be put in your paper recycling bin.

Fix it by:

  • Putting an educational poster near your recycling bins, so that everyone knows what can and can’t be recycled. Have a look at Fibre Circle’s resources here.


  • Magazines and brochures, including glossy varieties
  • Newspapers
  • Office and shredded paper, envelopes
  • Cardboard boxes of any kind – dry food, cosmetic and medicine boxes; roll cores, packing cartons
  • Old telephone directories and books
  • Envelopes
  • Paper giftwrap (minus decorations)
  • Milk, beverage, and food cartons
  • Paper cups


  • Wet or dirty paper and cardboard
  • Used paper plates, disposable nappies, tissues and toilet paper
  • Wax-coated, foil-lined or laminated boxes
  • Cement and dog food bags
  • Foil gift wrapping, carbon, and laminated paper

Mistake 2: 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-bin system – place receptacles for recycling next to bins for food and non-recyclable waste.
  • Teamwork – chat to your family and domestic helpers about your waste separation system.

Mistake 3: Making it difficult and time-consuming for family members to recycle

We’re all human. Nobody likes to walk too far to throw something away.

Fix it with:

  • Recycling receptacles in key locations – or bin separators:

o    In the kitchen

o    In the bathroom

o    In bedrooms

o    In the office

o    Near the front door or in the garage

Mistake 4: Not knowing what to do with your recyclables

Your family has collected all this paper (and other recycling), and after a while it ends up in the general rubbish.

Fix it with:

  • A sheltered area in which to keep recycled paper clean and dry.
  • A phone call to a smaller business about their recycling collection programme.
  • A chat with an informal collector about the recycling he or she collects.
  • Finding a local school or charity’s recycling fundraising initiative

Look up recycling locations in your area here.

Why recycle?

  • Circular economy – Paper is repulped to make new paper products that we use every day, such as tissue and paper packaging.
  • Landfill space – A tonne of recycled paper can save up to three cubic metres of landfill space when it is reprocessed.
  • Job creation – Big and small companies, as well as informal collectors, make money (and employ people) through the recovery and processing of clean, quality recyclable paper.

For more information, visit Fibre Circle and The Paper Story.

Photo: Freepik

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