In the hectic morning rush, it’s not unusual to see someone briefly pause over a recycling station, pondering if their takeaway coffee cup is recyclable.
It’s no wonder people are confused with various takeaway cup designs often promoting ‘Green Symbols’ and environmental images, perhaps designed to make us feel less guilty about forgetting our reusable cup!
It’s also clear that people want to do the right thing. Recent installations of our new Recycling Stations have resulted in an overwhelming response. People are highly engaged with these Coffee Cup programs, both discussing the program, and then diligently separating their lids, cups and liquid.
Unfortunately, this passion for recycling, in the absence of a dedicated recycling stream, often results in takeaway cups being a significant contributor of contamination, reducing the value of the recyclables, or in some cases resulting in the entire recycling streams ending up in Landfill, given it’s simply not economical to sort the recyclables from the contamination.
So why are cups not recyclable?
Coffee CUPS are lined with a thin coating to make the paper water proof. Most commonly this is polyethylene (plastic), and so as a result the cup cannot be recycled with other paper items through common technology. The small amount of plastic, combined with the paper outer lining, also means it can not pass through common plastic recycling procedures to be recovered. As such placing the cups into the recycling stream can do more harm than good, by contaminating the other paper recyclables.
The good news is that with ongoing investment in new technology, this is slowly changing. Already a number of councils in ACT and QLD have contracts with recycling facilities who recycle coffee cups as part of the recycling stream. So, it’s best to contact your waste collection contractor to confirm, and if it doubt throw your cup in Landfill, but take the lid off first!
Coffee LIDS on the other hand are made of thicker plastic alone, and so can be recycled. Check for a Plastics Identification Code stamp (1–6) to confirm, and then make sure to take off your lids, and place them in the Recycling stream.
What about the biodegradable alternatives?
Biodegradable Cups replace the plastic coating with a plant based coating, often wax. This ensures they are organic and will take less time to breakdown compared to plastics. It’s also less harmful for the environment during production, eliminating the mining and burning of fossil fuels associated with plastics. If your cup does state it’s Biodegradable, check for the Australian Certification Compostable logos. This certification ensures that the material is completely plastic free, so free from micro-plastics and contains no harmful residue as it breaks down. If Australian Certified Compostable, you can be confident that these cups will breakdown with organic waste in an industrial composting facility. As such they should be suitable for a dedicated organics stream, but again check for information on the Organics Waste bin, and don’t place them into your recycling stream.
What’s the best solution?
Pause and enjoy a coffee in a ceramic cup as the rest of the world rushes by, and of course, join the reusable cup club, for those moments in which you just can’t stop!
And if you see a huge Coffee Cup Recycling Station, be sure to recycle!