Cotswold Coffee Blog - recycling coffee cups


Recycling of paper cups - is it as easy as you think?

What sort of cup should you use for your coffee when you're out and about or at work? It's straightforward - paper cups are easy to recycle... or are they...?

Recycling of takeaway coffee cups is more complicated than you would imagine...

DATE POSTED: 08/04/2016

There has been a lot of press coverage recently about the the estimated 2.5 billion paper coffee cups that get thrown away. This is an industry issue and I’m not going to defend the situation but try and provide a little perspective. And, moreover try and encourage everyone to take a little responsibility for the situation.

We drink far more coffee on the high street than ever before. So far the coffee industry has come up with three principle materials for making cups out of – plastic, polystyrene and paper. There are merits in each, but also pitfalls:

Plastic Cups
Practical inasmuch as it is non-absorbent, so holds liquids well, however plastic tends not to hold the heat, so it goes cold quickly, or can burn your hands. It's worth bearing in mind that plastic cups are what we used when takeaway coffee was pretty grim, so it has an image issue with many people.

Polystyrene Cups
As with plastic, it is non absorbent and hold the heat well, so can be carried without a risk of injury. However, it holds the heat so well the drinks never go cold quickly - meaning you have to carry them around for a long time before you can take a drink. As with plastic, polysteyrene has a bit of an image issue with recycling and associated with the bad old days of poor quality coffee.

Paper Cups
The most recent material of choice. Looks good, feels nice in the hand. Holds the heat well without risk of burning, letting enough heat through to keep your fingers warm on a frosty morning. Brand managers love it because it is easy to print onto. All good it would seem. Apart from the fact that paper absorbs liquid, so a wax coating is applied to prevent your cappuccino soaking into your gloves. This makes recycling very difficult. Not so recycling-happy then...

It is this last point that makes the recycling difficult, as the wax inner needs to be extracted to enable the paper to be recycled. There is one company that does this, but the cups need to be collected, and there is a possible cost implication.

In order to recycle paper cups, there needs to be some effort from coffee drinkers, from paper cup manufacturers and recycle firms. By making a small effort to collect and recycle these cups, we can reduce the number of paper cups going into landfill - but we need the recyclers to do their job too.

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