Starbucks to test disposable cup that’s aiming to solve coffee’s recycling quandary

Starbucks to test disposable cup that’s aiming to solve coffee’s recycling quandryStarbucks is to carry out testing on a new paper cup that aims to provide a solution to the almost 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups that go unrecycled in the UK every year.

The new cup, developed by British company Frugalpac, is made from recycled paper and claims to be recyclable in normal paper mills.

Seven million cups are thrown away in the UK every day and at present the vast majority, over 99 per cent, are wasted – a fact brought to the attention of the nation by celebrity chef and waste campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall earlier this year.

The difficulties in recycling come from the makeup of the cups, which need to be waterproof. A layer of plastic film is bonded to the cup’s paper shell while it is flat, with waterproofing chemical agents also added to the paper. When fully assembled, the plastic film is bonded tightly to the paper and is also trapped into the seam, making it troublesome to recycle.

Specialist recycling facilities, like that operated by Simply Cups (featured last year in Resource), are needed to process conventional disposable cups, but even they can only collect cups from stores due to the need for completely separate collection. This means that only around six million cups of the 2.5 billion thrown away in the UK each year are recycled.

Martin Myerscough, Chief Executive of Frugalpac, believes that his company has found a solution with its new manufacturing process, which assembles the cup from recycled paper first before adding a thin plastic liner to the inside, without the use of any waterproofing chemicals. This liner is lightly bonded onto the cup, with the top rolled over the lip to provide the look and performance of a regular cup.

However, because the liner is only lightly glued into place, Myerscough says it can be separated form the paper during the recycling process at a standard paper mill, and so can be thrown into newspaper recycling bins. Frugalpac cups, he says, can be recycled up to seven times, typically for newspapers.

High street coffee chain Starbucks has already 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.

Storm in a coffee cup

Fearnley-Whittingstall caused a storm in the national media in March when he criticised leading coffee stores Costa and Starbucks for misleading claims about the sustainability of their cups. The Resource Hot 100 winner for 2015 took to the streets of London to highlight the amount of cups being wasted in the UK.

Starbucks to test disposable cup that’s aiming to solve coffee’s recycling quandry
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall took to the streets of London in March to highlight the waste caused by disposable coffee cups
In the fallout to the campaign, then-Resources Minister Rory Stewart suggested that a disposable cup levy similar to that on carrier bags could work to reduce the waste, although there are currently no plans within government to develop the idea.

Earlier this month, a partnership of businesses, retailers and suppliers launched ‘The Paper Cup Manifesto’, a voluntary agreement to increase the recovery and recycling of disposable cups by 2020. More than 30 signatories signed the commitment, which is being funded by its members and includes an agreement to implement research to understand the lifecycle of the cups, engage with government and deliver a range of initiatives to a allow consumers and the industry increase recycling rates for the cups.

Two years in development

Myerscough said: “It’s great to see Hugh’s campaign has had such an effect and that there’s now a real commitment across the industry to tackle this problem. People were shocked to learn that existing paper cups are only used once and rarely get recycled.

“We’ve spent the last two years developing our cup and we hope now that coffee chains and cup producers will see Frugalpac as an answer to this issue.

“The unique way we make our cups allows us to use recycled paper and not virgin cardboard from mature trees. It also means we don’t have to add waterproofing agents to the paper. Our cups are acceptable to all normal paper mills.”

“We really hope that Frugalpac becomes the standard in the industry so people can get on with enjoying their coffee without worrying about what damage the cup does to the environment afterwards.”

More information about the issue of coffee cups on Resource’s previous story on the Paper Cup Manifesto and Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign

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