Understanding coffee cup recycling bins

Janice Kanniah
June 24, 2022
Understanding coffee cup recycling bins

While most countries have a wide network of recycling bins that service neighbourhoods, this has not always led to recycling success. 

The majority of waste around the world is incorrectly recycled and ends up contaminating other recyclable products. A 2020 recycling report from Auckland, New Zealand, illustrates how much this can cost environmentally and financially. 

Over the last two years, Auckland residents incorrectly recycled almost 37,000 tonnes of waste – at a cost of almost $4 million.  

While the government states many types of waste are placed in the wrong bins, the most common type encountered is single-use coffee cups. These make up a significant amount of landfill waste, even when they are made from eco-friendly materials such as paper and bioplastics. 

Roasters and cafes who use these cups can help divert them from landfills by understanding what they are made from and how they should be recycled. More importantly, this information can be passed onto customers to ensure the cups are placed in the correct recycling bin.

Read on to find out more about coffee cup recycling bins. 

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Caucasian female hands breaking up green paper takeaway coffee cup.

How has waste collection changed over time?

The practice of collecting waste for recycling and disposal can be traced back to as early as 500 BCE.

As time passed, recycling became an economic priority due to limited metal and paper production. 

The invention of plastic allowed manufacturers to package and produce products more efficiently and at a lower cost. This led to a disposable culture where single-use plastics became the norm, which continued over the next few decades. 

The recycling symbol was invented in 1970, coinciding with scientists and the public realising the environmental impact of plastic. While countries continued with waste collection and disposal, two major incidents highlighted the need for improved practices. 

The first was in 2018, when China banned waste imports from other countries, citing waste contamination as a reason. 

The second was the 2019 Covid-19 pandemic, which increased the use of disposable packaging and shut down many recycling facilities at the same time.

Countries are now responsible for disposing of their own waste, and landfill space is rapidly running out. As a result, many have turned to incineration to get rid of contaminated waste, which contributes to air pollution.

This, in turn, has had negative repercussions on consumer perceptions. A 2022 survey shows while 95% of Americans believe in recycling, a third believe their waste is not properly  recycled. 

This has led to a phenomenon known as “wishcycling”, where customers place waste in recycling bins and hope for the best. 

Close up image of rows of multicoloured paper takeaway coffee cups on display.

The challenges of recycling single-use coffee cups

In most cases, all types of waste are disposed of incorrectly, however, single-use coffee cups are often considered the most harmful. 

Half of all coffees are sold in single-use takeaway cups – amounting to an estimated 7 million cups daily in the UK alone. Less than 1 in 400 of these cups are recycled, and this is likely due to their inner lining.

Many disposable paper cups are lined with plastic or bioplastics to prevent the paper from disintegrating. This lining must be separated from the paper before either material can be recycled. 

Single-use takeaway coffee cups can understandably create confusion among customers. 

First, it can be a challenge to determine what the cup is made from and how it should be disposed of – unless the information has been printed on the cup or provided by the café.

Second, recycling symbols and resin identification codes can be equally confusing. For instance, a typical single-use coffee cup can be made from compostable paper but lined with low density polyethylene (LDPE) film

Therefore, disposing of the cup as a paper product would lead to contamination. As would disposing of it as a plastic code 4 product. As this is a growing concern, many governments have taken steps to address these challenges. 

For example, Westminster in the UK is trialling a “good-to-go” scheme. This involves placing dedicated coffee cups in bins in set locations. If it proves successful, it will be implemented across London. 

Roasters and café owners who are interested in the scheme can register to have a bin placed in their area. 

This collection scheme helps prevent cups from contaminating other waste. Then they can be processed by a dedicated centre with facilities that separate and reprocess the materials involved. 

Green ripple wall paper takeaway coffee cup surrounded by dark roasted coffee beans in the Mobius recycling loop.

Why education is important 

Dedicated coffee cup recycling bins are certainly one answer to the cup waste problem, but roasters and café owners need to do their part. 

While a bin and collection point may be installed in the area, roasters will need to ensure they are using the right types of takeaway cups. Furthermore, they need to inform customers on how to recycle them. 

One of the most effective ways to do this would be to add to branding. Roasters and café owners can include information on their chosen cups, and convey how keeping them out of traditional recycling bins can benefit the environment.

If there is no cup collection bin in the area, businesses may want to explore the idea of having customers return their empty cups. Customers can be incentivised through discounts or a cup of free coffee, while roasters and café owners can ensure the cups are properly recycled. 

Research shows that 47% of customers will hold on to their cups for longer if they knew it needed to be disposed of in a specific bin.

Image of server serving takeaway coffees with bleached white multilayer kraft paper coffee pouch on table next to chemex.

Navigating the world of recycling can seem challenging, but it doesn’t need to be.

With a little extra effort and the right choice of disposable coffee cups, roasters can make a difference to the planet while educating customers and operating as sustainably as possible. 

At MTPak Coffee, we offer sustainable and compostable takeaway coffee cups made from recycled kraft paper and lined with PLA.

Strong, lightweight and compostable, these are the ideal choice for roasters looking to reduce the impact on the environment and communicate their commitment towards sustainability.

Our range includes double or single wall cups, as well as coffee cup sleeves. We can also help you brand your takeaway coffee cups with details of your business, allowing you to communicate the cup’s recycling qualities to customers.

This can be done using sustainable, water-based inks that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This means that while they are highly resistant to abrasion, water, and heat, they are also compostable and easy to remove for recycling.

Furthermore, we offer a range of low minimum order quantity (MOQ) options. This means you can order as little as 500 fully customised units in just five working days.

For more information on sustainable takeaway coffee cups, contact our team

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