Coffee is the morning energy boost for millions of Aussies and collectively we consume over 1 billion cups a year. What most of us are blindly unaware of though is that our morning cups of joy are generally not recyclable. In fact only a small percentage of coffee cups currently on the market can be recycled. Most disposable cups contain a thin plastic lining that is hazardous to the environment. It was recently reported that coffee cups have become the 2nd largest contributor to litter behind plastic bottles. So what is this plastic lining and how do we know if it’s in our coffee cups?
What’s in the lining?
The lining in most coffee cups is made from a plastic (polyethylene) resin. This layer improves durability and heat retention but in turn means the product is not bio-degradable or recyclable. This plastic ends up in landfills and oceans where it will long outlast any current living person. A recent world economic forum reported that there is now more plastic in the ocean than fish (We know, that can’t be good). There are however a number of substitutes on the market.
Generally, this involves using an additive in the oil-based plastic lining which will break down over a period of time when deprived of oxygen. The scientific evidence has not sufficiently proven that this does in fact work though. Cups that claim biodegradability can also be misleading because in actual fact only a percentage of the cup itself is biodegradable under the right conditions.
When the materials of these cups break down, they are supposed to be suitable for use in a compost. Composting however is not widely available in Australia, so cups are often put into household or community composts. Most compostable coffee cups still end up in landfill.
Whether a plastic-coated paper cup is recyclable varies from area to area. Some local councils accept coffee cups as part of their recycling process, while others exclude them and dump them in landfill. Some cups such as bio-pak cups use a plant based lining which is fully biodegradable and compostable. These cups by design are fully recyclable.
So how does one know if their morning coffee cup can be recycled or should be disposed of? It really comes down to where you buy your coffee! All cups that are recyclable will be labelled with the recycle symbol. As for biodegrade cups well that where it can get messy. Believe it or not some companies will actually make up their own logo to make you think the cup meets certain standards.
Of course if your local cafe isn’t using recycled coffee cups you can always change your cafe. If thats not an option there are reusable cups available such as a KeepCup. Some cafes around Melbourne even offer discounts to customers using keep cups (so keep a lookout).