Three paper recycling mistakes you might be making in your home

November 24, 2021

Why should we recycle? Firstly, used paper is repulped to make new products that we use every day such tissue and paper packaging. Next, a tonne of recycled paper can save up to three cubic metres of landfill space. And recycling creates jobs and supports livelihoods. However, even the most conscientious people make recycling mistakes. You might even think your home is paperless, so you don’t need to recycle. 

Fibre Circle, the producer responsibility organisation for the South African paper and paper packaging sector, shares three common recycling mistakes, with helpful tips to get your recycling right.

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

Even though they are made of paper, several items are not suitable for recycling due to food contamination or elements such waxes, foils, laminates, and glues. These products should not be put in your paper recycling bin.


  • 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 


  • 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

Fix it by:

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 or three-bin system – one bin for recycling, another for non-recyclables and non-compostable waste, and a third for compostable waste such as veggie peels, teabags and used paper napkins. 
  • A chat to your family and domestic helpers about recycling. 

Mistake 3: Not knowing what to do with your recyclables

You have collected paper (and other recycling), and you don’t know what to do with it.

Fix it with:

  • A sheltered area 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 local school or charity’s recycling fundraising initiative


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