Can coffee cups be recycled? DS Smith to lead new cup recycling trial

Packaging and recycling company DS Smith has announced its participation in a trial due to start in January 2018 to research the highly-topical issue of coffee cup recycling, which will be run on behalf of the Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group (PCRRG).

Can coffee cups be recycled? DS Smith to lead new cup recycling trialThe trial will be undertaken at DS Smith’s 800,000-tonne per year capacity Kemsley Paper Mill in Sittingbourne and will test the feasibility of recycling used coffee cups to make non-food contact papers, using cups from existing waste infrastructures consistent with EN643 (the European List of Standard Grade of Paper and Board for Recycling).

The project hopes to provide insight on an industrial scale, which will be used to inform cup design, collection and reprocessing methods in the future.

Around 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups are thrown away in the UK every year – some 5,000 a minute – many by busy commuters on their way to or from work. Single-use coffee cups pose significant challenges to mainstream paper mills and recyclers, due to the plastic lining in coffee cups and having to deal with food waste contamination and coffee remnants.

The problem has become increasingly acute over the past decade or so as coffee ‘on the go’ has become almost synonymous with modern mass consumer culture, and such is its ubiquity that Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee relaunched an investigation into the impact of disposable drinks packaging on the environment back in September.

“DS Smith has already been actively involved with PCRRG members, such as Costa, on lab and pilot plant-scale recycling tests,” said Mathew Prosser, Managing Director at DS Smith Recycling (UK). “I am pleased this work has developed to be able to undertake research on an industrial scale that will provide the whole supply cycle with data on the recyclability of paper cups in mainstream packaging mills.

“We look forward to sharing the results of the trial with the PCRRG, and the wider industry, on its completion.”

Despite the enduring recycling challenges posed by single-use coffee cups, industry efforts to address the issue have ramped up over the past year.

Back in October, 14 organisations including McDonald’s, Starbucks and Greggs joined together to fund a long-term nationwide paper cup recycling programme run by the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE UK), which will deliver an additional 382 paper cup recycling points in 97 local authorities across the UK from 1 January 2018.

Attempts have also been made to tackle the issue of ‘on the go’ coffee cup waste, with waste services firm Veolia launching a national coffee cup recycling service for offices after research found that over half of regular takeaway hot drink consumers dispose of their cup at work, while behaviour change charity Hubbub partnered with recycling company Simply Cups back in April to launch the ‘Square Mile Challenge’, which saw the installation of single-use coffee cup collection points across London’s Square Mile, the most densely-officed area in the UK. 

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