Can you recycle paper cups?
I am passionate about recycling! At home I try and recycle as much as possible; taking glass, batteries and soft plastics to the super market to get them recycled as I can’t do this at home! But one area that I know is very confusing is – can you recycle paper cups?
Paper disposable cups have not had a good reputation, it was first highlighted back in 2016 on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘War On Waste’ programme where he attacked the high street coffee chains and highlighted that paper cups cannot be placed in a paper recycling bin which so many of us did, thinking we were being responsible, including myself.
Why is it so hard to recycle paper cups?
To meet hygiene needs paper cups are made out of virgin materials which means they could be recycled in theory. However, to be able to drink out of the cup they need to be lined with something potentially non-recyclable so that they can hold the liquid.
Now even with Hugh’s campaigning against coffee cups they are still very much here even after 7 years! Coffee culture has exploded in the UK and we now use 7 million disposable coffee cups each day, that is 2.5 billion cups every year!*
But the good news is we have move on since 2016, and there has been new innovation in terms of the lining being used on coffee cups, which now are mainly PE, PLA and Aqueous lining.
But what do they all mean and which paper cup is better for the environment?
Polyethylene (PE) is the traditional way of lining disposable cups to make them waterproof. This is not easily separated from the board unless recycled via a specialist cup recycling facility, not commonly used by local authorities.
PLA products are known as bio-plastics. They are made from marine or plant-based material such as corn and sugarcane. They are considered kinder to the planet as PLA requires less usage of fossil fuels and generates fewer greenhouse gases than traditional plastics. PLA can only be recycled using and industrial composting facility.
This is a relatively new material used to line paper cups. Aqueous is a water-based latex emulsion to make the cups waterproof. Cups lined with this material can be both home and industrial compostable and aqueous lining is recyclable as a material. But, due to the UK recycling infrastructure, they cannot yet be recycled in normal paper recycling facilities as the technology isn’t developed to support it. Aqueous lined cups can be recycled with a specialist cup recycling facility.
So can we draw a conclusion from this?
All cups can technically be recycled, in fact they can be recycled 25 times – but not via mainstream waste channels. Disposal needs to be managed, which is no different from anything else that we recycle. Don’t be a ‘wishcycler’ by putting cups in a paper recycling bin or mixed recycling bins – they won’t get recycled – and worse, will just contaminate recycling.
If you really want to make a difference and ensure the cups you use at your facility have a responsible end of life, check with you local waste facility and understand what recycling options are best for you, which will determine the most suitable cup for you to use. By using a specialist cup recycling facility such as Valpak, Bywaters or Veolia you can recycle your cups at the 5 UK paper mills that accept recyclable cups.
If you are using compostable cups, Vegware will help you to find you your nearest composting facility and help you also to manage your waste, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Having the right cup with the correct waste stream is the ultimate solution and makes a great story, fill your bins and get your customers recycling!
To find out more about our products including paper cups, have a look at our new Grab & Go guide.
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