Currently, up to 1 billion disposable coffee cups end up in Australian landfills every year, which equates to more than 7,000 tonnes of cups, taking over 50 years to decompose. The challenge with these coffee cups (and other Polymer Coated Paperboard (PCP) products such as milk, juice and cream cartons) is that they contain an inner layer of plastic, rendering the cups difficult to recycle with other paperboard products.
The use of multiple material types within a single product poses difficulties for some recycling facilities who may struggle with the separation and management of the two recyclable components. In a paper stream, the plastic may be considered a contaminant, and vice versa in a plastic stream.
To address this challenge, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APC) has established a Polymer Coated Paperboard Working Group (PCPBWG) in collaboration with industry leaders and stakeholders. In alignment with the APC’s first pillar of resource efficiency, the group seeks to create a circular economy for disposable coffee cups, and prevent them from ending up in landfill.
Participants in the working group include APC members Cleanaway BioPak, Huhtamaki, PAC.NZ, MPM Marketing, and OJI Fibre Solutions. The first sitting of the group was on the 3rd of March 2017 and the group meet fortnightly. The PCPBWG seeks to validate the industry positions on the recyclability, or otherwise, of these products to ensure that the Australian population have access to information, schemes and facilities to allow them to recycle their disposable paper cups.
Broader input is also being sought from other stakeholders including retailers and MRFs. By inviting participants from all parts of the supply chain, the working group seeks to address some of the key issues around PCP recycling, including consumer misinformation and infrastructure requirements.
The APC will work with the paper cup supply chain to ensure cups are designed, used, disposed of and collected to maximise rates of recycling in Australia – this can also be achieved through funding and support of projects.
The group will publish an issues paper with outcomes, key recommendations and action items in the coming weeks.