The journey behind the papermaking process

Paper, as we know it today, is a versatile material with many uses, including printing, painting, graphics, signage, design, packaging, decorating, writing, and cleaning. It is also able to be recycled and made into new products once used.

Unfortunately, few people routinely recycle their paper, partly because of the small extra effort involved and partly because they don’t understand the benefits and process of how it is recycled and reused.

Recycling plant [photo]

What is paper recycling?

Paper recycling is the collection and processing of used paper products to make new paper products. It involves several steps:

How to get started

The recycling of paper and/or cardboard starts with the storing of used products in different recycling containers in the home, school, university, office or business.

There are two options to consider when deciding what to do with recyclables:

  1. Have them collected by a recycling business that operates in the area or support waste collectors who will collect the used materials from your pavement;
  2. Drop them off to support a community organisation or a school by depositing it into their paper bank.

We, as the leading recycler in South Africa, run our popular Ronnie Recycling Schools Programme. This encourages nursery schools, primary schools and high schools in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape to collect as much recyclable paper and cardboard, as well as plastics as possible.

Ronnie Recycler school programme [photo]

Through an annual competition, the schools in our Mpact Recycling network who collect the most recyclables win cash prizes. They can then use these funds for various school initiatives, such as creating vegetable gardens, painting classrooms or buying books.

If you haven’t already signed up your school for 2023, do so today: Ronnie Recycling Schools Programme

Have you ever wondered what happens to the paper and cardboard that ends up in a recycling bin or designated drop off point?

Collection and sorting

Recycled paper and cardboard is taken to a sorting facility where it is offloaded, weighed and sorted into different grades, such as cardboard, common waste which is cereal boxes, toothpaste boxes, mixed paper or white paper. At every facility, quality control staff will determine the moisture content of the products and grade the load for its worth. This is done by using a moisture reader and the final dry price of the load is worked out.

Once the paper is sorted, it is baled and sent to converting factories where it is then recycled.


A front-end loader pushes the material onto a conveyer system that takes it up to the top of the baling machine. As the material moves along the conveyer belt, contaminants such as plastic or strapping are removed manually. Once it reaches the top of the machine the material drops into the compression chamber. When the chamber reaches capacity, a ram will extend and force the material into a pressure tunnel. The ram is pulled back once the right pressure is reached and more material is dropped down into the chamber. This process continues until a bale of the correct size is formed, which is then secured using wire strands.

Baling recycling process [photo]

The final product

Cardboard bales weigh approximately 1.5 tonnes with white paper bales tipping the scales slightly less at 900 kg to 1 tonne depending on the baling machine’s size. Specially designed forklift trucks are used to transport the bales around the sorting facility.

The bales are then stored until an order comes in for a specific grade of material, after which they are loaded onto trucks that take the material to the mill where they are re-pulped and made into paper reels. The paper is then be made into other products such as carton board and container board which will ultimately become paper bags, cardboard boxes and so on.

Bale storage [photo]

Other grades of paper are collected and baled in a similar way but these are then supplied to tissue paper mills to be then converted into paper that is used to make paper napkins, toilet paper, tissues and roller towel.

Companies who are making a difference

An important industry player in recycling is the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa. They are a Producer Responsibility Organisation that advocates for the recycling of paper and cardboard. You can learn more about what they do by visiting:

Unprocessed carboard [photo]

Watch this videos for more information on the paper process:


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