Simply Cups partners with creators of recyclable coffee cup

The UK’s only paper cup recycling scheme has agreed to recover and help recycle a new cup, said by its creators to be recyclable at traditional paper mills.

The recycling of takeaway coffee cups was one of the big waste storylines in 2016, after celebrity chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall highlighted the fact that at least 2.5 billion cups are thrown away in the UK every year and that just 0.25 per cent are recycled at Simply Cups, the only operational facility that can process the mesh of paper and coated plastic that makes up the cups.

Simply Cups partners with creators of recyclable coffee cup
Since the national media picked up Fearnley-Whittingstall’s message in March, there has been a raging debate about how best to manage the issue, with sides being taken over whether it would be best to institute better recycling systems, encourage less use of single-use cups or create a more recyclable cup.

Now, Simply Cups, a scheme launched in August 2014 that provides paper cup manufacturers and organisations operating in the supply chain as well as beverage and hospitality outlets with a cup collection and recycling service, has partnered with California-based Smart Planet Technologies (SPT) to recover its ‘reCUP’ product.

Traditional disposable coffee cups are made with a plastic layer coating the main paper structure before assembly, meaning that the plastic is baked into the cup. This means it cannot be easily removed and the cups cannot be recycled within paper streams.

SPT says that the ‘reCUP’ performs ‘exactly the same’ as those currently used at coffee chains in the UK, but has a plastic coating blended with minerals, reducing plastic content by ‘up to 50 per cent’, which it says makes the cup compatible with existing recycling equipment used at paper mills.

Will Lorenzi, President of SPT, said: “The first step in resolving the lack of paper cup recycling is to give the recycling industry a paper cup worth recycling. Once the coating is no longer an obstacle to recycling, a paper cup becomes a valuable material to recycle.
“We have substantiated that our cup material can be processed through standard paper mill recycling infrastructure, and our relationship with Simply Cups will provide assurance to businesses and consumers that the reCUP will meet its ‘recyclable’ commitment.”

The cup will be sold in the UK through 4 Aces, a disposable packaging producer and Simply Cups founding member, and SPT says it will be available at a cost ‘comparable with traditional paper cups’.

‘A major step in the right direction’

Simply Cups currently processes coffee cups at its plant in Middlesex by submerging the material in a tank of hot water with a high pH value. A pulper then strips the plastic before a series of screens and cleaners separate the plastic from the paper.

However, the partnership will be using the first part of the Simply Cups service, collecting the reCUPs from retailers before sending them off in bulk to paper mills. Although the cups can be recycled within the traditional paper stream, they cannot at this point be thrown away into paper recycling bins due to the vast majority of cups being less easy-to-recycle and the difficulty of differentiating between them at the mills.

Commenting on the company’s new relationship, Peter Goodwin, co-founder of Simply Cups, said: “SPT has rightly recognised that, for its products to be recycled, they first need to be collected separately at source and then forwarded to a paper reprocessing plant. As the only organisation in the UK operating this service, Simply Cups was the obvious choice.”

Chris Penn, Managing Director of 4 Aces added: “We have been looking for the most efficient way to resolve the problem of recycling paper cups and a new cup that can be processed through existing recycling equipment is a major step in the right direction.
“We are committed to greater sustainability in disposable packaging, and so we’re enormously excited to be integral in the roll out of the game-changing reCUP in the UK.”

Industry developments

Since the issue of disposable coffee cups exploded in March, the packaging and coffee industry has been keen to show development of solutions.

In June, the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) and Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group (PCRRG) launched ‘The Paper Cup Manifesto’, an industry-wide initiative with the objective of significantly increasing paper cup recovery and recycling rates by 2020.

The voluntary commitment, funded by its 30 signatories, aims to deliver systematic change that will increase the sustainable recovery and recycling rates of used paper cups.

However, appearing on the BBC’s One Show late last year, Fearnley-Whittingstall said that until a fully and easily recyclable cup was developed, he would not be satisfied.

British company Frugalpac launched a cup of its own, which it says only has a thin plastic layer that is lightly glued into place and can be recycled in normal paper mills. When it was launched in July 2016, high street coffee chain Starbucks expressed an interest in trialling the new cup, saying that it will be testing the product to see if it meets the company’s standards for safety and quality before trialling its recyclability.

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