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Paper explained

“We live in a paper world. Without paper our lives would be unimaginable. Or almost unimaginable. We can, of course, imagine it, as we can imagine anything, for the great writers and artists and musicians have taught us to imagine, in their books and their paintings, and through their music. We have been trained by them, educated by them on paper, and through paper, and by paper. Like being dead, or never having been born… Imagine for a moment that paper were to disappear. Would anything be lost? Everything would be lost.”

IAN SANSOM, Paper: An Elegy

Paper is more than copy paper. It is the cardboard box that gets your online shopping safely to your door. It’s your child’s school report or first piece of art. It’s the paper bag for your groceries, the carton of milk, the label on the coffee jar, the sack of sugar. Paper is also the book on your bedside table or your community newspaper. And of course, it’s the toilet roll in your bathroom. Paper is part of our lives as packaging, tissue, and printing and writing media.

But paper also goes beyond this, or should we say, before that. Pulp – the precursor to paper-based products – is also used to make cellulose-based products such as textiles (viscose and rayon), sponges, cosmetics, lotions and ingredients that serve as carriers for medicines and emulsifiers in foods.

Several products are also made from recycled fibre which comes from paper products we use every day such as used office paper, cardboard boxes, paper packaging, magazines and newspapers.

Pulp and paper mills also recover by-products from its processes for re-use and other applications. Substances such as black liquor can be used as a fuel in its process while lignosulphonates, sugars and sludge find applications in a variety of areas.

Wood and paper products are as renewable as you can get. In South Africa, harvested wood products are not sourced urban trees or indigenous forests but rather from farmed trees that are planted, grown, harvested and regrown or replanted in an environmentally responsible and future-focused manner. And timber harvesting is should never be misconstrued as deforestation which is the removal of trees without replanting.

The carbon cycle of wood and paper products

The global forest products industry has a long-standing commitment to climate change mitigation, from growing trees and reducing its carbon footprint across each and every aspect of its value chain. Through the process of photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, store the carbon for growth and release oxygen. This is why trees – in both natural forests and well-managed planted forests – are important as a mitigation measure for climate change. The carbon stays locked up in the wood and paper products, which can be further prolonged through re-use and recycling.

The carbon cycle of wood and paper products

What is Paper Recycling?

Paper recycling is the collection and processing of used paper products to make new paper products and involves several steps. Find out more about paper recycling here.

Paper production and recycling statistics

The Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa collates data from the South African pulp and paper sector to draw up an annual summary of paper manufacturing and paper recycling statistics. Summaries of our recycling and production statistics, as well as other relevant industry information, is contained here.