Four Office Recycling Mistakes


It is estimated that only 8% of businesses recycle their used paper and board. And even the most well-intentioned recyclers make mistakes The Paper Recycling Association of South Africa (PRASA) outlines some of the more common recycling blunders.

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

Even though they are made of paper, a number of items are not suitable for recycling: dirty paper plates, cigarette butts, tissue and toilet paper, paper towel, sticky notes, carbon paper, foil-lined, wax-coated and laminated papers, cement and dog food bags.

These items cannot be recycled owing to the contamination or non-recyclability of certain elements or ‘stickies’ like waxes, foils, laminates and glues.

Mistake 2: Food contamination

Cigarette butts and soiled take-away containers contaminate the paper and reduce its value. Paper also starts to degrade once wet.

Set-up a two-bin system – receptacles for paper recycling and bins for food, liquid and non-recyclable waste with clear and simple messaging and graphics.

Contact one of PRASA’s members about paper recycling boxes: Mpact Recycling, Sappi ReFibre and Neopak Recycling.

Mistake 3: Making it difficult to recycle

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

  • Ensure that each desk is equipped with a tray or office recycler solely for paper and board.
  • Install paper recycling receptacles in key locations:
  • At each desk
  • At each printing/copying station
  • In meeting and break rooms, and kitchen areas
  • In reception
  • For every paper recycling bin, there should be a general waste bin alongside it.

A study showed that paper recycling rose from 28% with one bin per office to 94% when paper trays were located on desks.

Mistake 4: Not knowing what to do with your recyclables

Your office has collected all this paper, but now what? After a while, it all often ends up in the general rubbish.

  • Assign a sheltered area in which to keep recycled paper clean and dry.
  • Where possible, keep office paper (mainly white bond paper) separate from newspapers and magazines and cardboard boxes.
  • Partner with a recycling collection agent that meets your needs – this could be a service offered by a big company, a smaller business or an informal collector who can benefit from your paper collection.
  •  Visit for collection programmes or buy-back centres in your area.
  • Support a local school or charity’s recycling fundraising initiatives (eg, the Ronnie Recycler programme).
  • Visit for a list of its members.

Other ways to boost your company’s recycling efforts

  • Appoint a recycling champion who is able to drive and monitor the programme.
  • Ensure that cleaning teams are trained and incentivised to maintain the programme. Include and thank them in the communications.
  • It makes sense in a larger office park to centralise the collection area so that larger quantities are accumulated faster.
  • Staff can also be encouraged to bring waste paper from home if the storage area is big enough.
  • With a paper recovery rate of 64%, South Africa has been trending upwards towards a goal of 70% by 2020 for the past few years.


  • 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 (flattened)
  • Old telephone directories and books
  • Envelopes
  • Paper giftwrap
  • Milk, beverage and food cartons (such as Tetra Pak and SIG Combibloc liquid packaging)


  • 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