Many people are not aware of what goes into making everyday products such as toilet paper, envelopes, packaging paper or office paper, nor how paper is recycled. This has led to large parts of the population underestimating the contribution of the pulp and paper industry to South African society. For this reason, the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA) has partnered with GM Television to create a series of short videos for the popular How It’s Made YouTube channel.
Jane Molony, executive director of PAMSA, says, “This sector is an essential service that produces pulp, printing and writing paper, packaging paper as well as tissue products. From forestry to paper and recycling, the greater sector employs close to 150,000 people, and indirectly supports thousands of livelihoods through recycling. We saw the fact that many people do not know this as an opportunity to make relevant and local content for anyone wishing to understand what happens behind the scenes in a paper mill.”

The video series includes:

Toilet paper

Nothing will quite live up to the toilet paper dilemma in March 2020 when shelves were void of this essential item thanks to a surge in panic buying. Toilet paper is something we tend to take for granted. Each roll is the result of a complex, ultra-high-speed manufacturing process that produces thousands of rolls every hour. The video takes the viewer through Kimberly-Clark’s local production line that operates 24/7, every day of the year. Click to view:

Paper sorting and grading

Few people are familiar with the paper-recycling process and know where our old cardboard boxes or used office paper go once they enter the collection system, either through a formal programme or informal waste collectors. Sorting and grading are the first stages in the paper recycling process. At Mpact’s Durban facility, it all begins at the weighbridge, where materials are weighed before being offloaded and graded. Each bale weighs 1,000 kg and Mpact produces up to 25 of them an hour. Click to view:

Yesterday’s cardboard box, today’s paper bag

After the paper is sorted into various grades, it heads off to be repulped. At Neopak’s Pretoria-based paper-recycling mill, ‘waste’ paper is given a new lease on life, again and again. All of this is part of the circular economy of paper making and recycling. Click to view:

Press print

Although the world has gone digital, paper still plays a vital role in information sharing, learning and marketing. For many of us, the product that springs to mind when we think about paper is the office paper that we use in our printers. This video takes viewers to the Mondi Merebank mill in Durban, where the company transforms wood into a wonderfully white blank canvas for our thoughts and words. Click to view:

Pushing the envelope

Despite the demise of the postal service in South Africa, Merpak still makes millions of envelopes every day in different colours, shapes and sizes. Watch them be cut, punched, folded, glued, dried and made ready to carry your mail at a rate of 650 units a minute! Click to view:

Aside from making significant economic contributions, paper is also a renewable and sustainable product. “The myth that paper production in South Africa causes deforestation is unequivocally false. In fact, the way our sector operates is completely the opposite”, explains Molony.

The wood fibre that goes into the making of paper is sourced from the sustainably managed plantations that grow largely in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. Trees are planted and grown in an environmentally responsible way until they are mature enough for harvesting.

Even then, only 10 percent is harvested each year. In the meantime, new trees are being propagated in nurseries, getting ready to take the place of their older counterparts. “These trees are also carboncapturing machines, absorbing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, storing the carbon for growth, and giving us the gift of oxygen”, notes Molony.

Paper, as a harvested wood product, continues to store the carbon even when it is made into packaging, office paper or envelopes.
Paper’s recyclability means that it can be used to make all manner of items, not least of which includes paper packaging such as boxes and toilet paper. These videos depict this in an insightful and engaging way.