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TAKEAWAY COFFEE CUPS – THE ISSUES ‘UNWRAPPED’

By Asha Kayla, Sustainable Communities Manager on April 21, 2017 in News

My monthly intake.

My monthly intake.

Who doesn’t love their morning coffee-to-go? With three million cups enjoyed each day, it’s a real romance for most of us. Sadly, up to a billion takeaway coffee cups end up in landfill every year, and many find their way into our oceans. They take years to degrade or just break into smaller pieces, causing damage on land and in the sea.

Here’s some business, industry and packaging expert advice on how to make your next coffee guilt-free…

Takeaway coffee cups are not recyclable
Due to the plastic resin inner lining (stuff called polyethylene), takeaway cups are not recyclable, even though they are mostly paper. It’s almost impossible to sort them out for recycling. According to Brendan Lee of Closed Loop: “They look like cardboard and behave like cardboard, but they’re not and they can’t be mechanically separated, so they would have to be separated by hand. This is obviously far too expensive to do.”

Biodegradable cups are not guilt-free either
Generally, biodegradable cups are great if they are disposed of in a commercial grade composter, less so in a home compost bin. They cannot go in recycling bins*. If they are thrown in the general waste that goes to landfill, they emit climate-damaging methane gas, the very worst of the greenhouse gases, as they break down.

Takeaway cups are ‘out’ and reusable cups are ‘in’
Reusable cups are on the rise. According to Benjamin Young of FrankGreen: “We have found that 50 per cent of our customers have never used a reusable product before.” Many do not go back to disposable cups once investing in a reusable one. You can customize the colours to suit your style, grab discounts, loyalty or reward points from some cafes, and you can even pay with your cup using CafePay.

What can you do to help?
Aside from giving up coffee (never going to happen), the experts tell us to: avoid using a takeaway cup – sit, sip and relax in your local café; reuse if you’re having it on the go (choose from one of the many reusable products on the market, such as FrankGreen, Joco or KeepCups**); only accept biodegradable cups if you have a compost facility nearby; and, if you must use a takeaway cup, put it in the general rubbish bin, not the recycling bin.

In the future
There are moves to shake up the recycling process to make it easier to separate out takeaway cups. Closed Loop and their partner organisation, the Australian Packaging Covenant, are trialling cup-only recycling bins in offices to create a single waste stream, which could attract a commercial market for them. This follows the success of Simply Cups in the UK, which collects and recycles coffee cups into second-life materials using cutting edge technology.

In Bondi we like it ‘Unwrapped’
Waverley Council is working with businesses and the community to tackle takeaway waste with the project ‘Bondi Unwrapped’. Businesses can access a free waste packaging assessment, which will help cafes and consumers make better purchasing decisions. To find out more, email asha.kayla@waverley.nsw.gov.au.

*Check with manufacturer to be sure.
**This is not intended as an endorsement of these products.

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