Disposable cup recycling
In Quebec, more than 1.5 billion cups are thrown in the garbage annually, and unfortunately, paper coffee cups still cannot be recycled in North America.
In fact, these single-use coffee cups pose major contamination problems in recycling other materials.
There are many reasons why they are generally not good candidates for recycling. The main thing is that they are covered with a thin plastic coating, to keep the heat inside the cup.
For most sorting centres, it is quite difficult to separate the plastic lining from the paper.
With citizens becoming aware of the need to reduce plastic waste in recent years, these paper coffee cups lined with plastic are becoming a major challenge for waste management and recycling.
Sorting centres have intensified their efforts to reduce recycling contamination due to the presence of this type of cups that end up in landfill. For example, the United States alone has about 50 billion coffee cups a year. It is time for stakeholders to start taking action.
Some paper mills commit
In late 2021, many paper mill managers met to discuss the development of paper cup recycling. This group represents approximately 75% of the U.S. and Canadian mixed paper production market. They confirmed that paper cups can still be recycled for their high quality fibers, regardless of the plastic lining.
Following this meeting, the group committed to accept bales of paper cups from recycling facilities for use in their manufacture. This change will not be immediate, but as the process is organized, more and more sorting centres will accept paper cups lined with plastic for recycling.
New technologies for coffee cup recycling
Until now, separating plastic from paper is an almost impossible task for recycling facilities. However, with the development of more and more mixed materials, it is imperative that they adapt. At Ricova, we are continuously working to improve our results and have seen significant improvements. Thanks to the improvements, the contamination rate of mixed paper is now close to 12%, which is lower than the average of all sorting centres in Quebec!
Finding new technologies to get these fibers from single-use paper cups has become a necessity for the environmental industry.
There are already a few recycling facilities across North America that use advanced technologies to separate paper and plastic products to make disposable cup recycling possible.
The paper and wood industry is investing approximately $5 billion to build infrastructure for recycling and paper recovery by 2023.
Thus, while most facilities are not yet able to accept blended materials such as coffee cups, we should see a dramatic shift in what is accepted in the coming years.