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A (seriously) green coffee cup

| July 17, 2014
coffee cup

Starbucks coffee cups are made of paper, but not as recyclable as you might think. From jwalsh.

Let’s start this story with some eye-opening statistics. Starbucks uses four billion coffee cups per year. Of those four billion cups, Starbucks is ony able to recycle 39 percent of them. That’s less than four in ten cups. Why so low? They’re made of paper, right?

Well, yes, they are—but paper doesn’t contain liquid very well on its own. Starbucks cups have a special liner that prevent leaking. Unfortunately, that same special liner makes the cups more difficult to recycle.

So even if you toss your empty Starbucks cup into the bin at Starbucks, they won’t necessarily be able to recycle it.

Yeesh.

The issue isn’t necessarily about technology. According to Bloomberg, it is possible to remove the lining so paper coffee cups can be recycled—it’s just cost-prohibitive. Apparently, “recyclers will only bother if they are supplied with enough used cups to justify running the process on a regular basis.”

You’d think four billion cups would be enough, wouldn’t you? But that requires Starbucks to actually collect and submit all those cups. Many of us stroll right out of Starbucks with our cups, and even if we all dropped our empty cups at Starbucks, it still represents a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to all the cardboard and paper that gets recycled each year, so it still might not be enough to warrant consistent lining removal.

The good news? There might be a solution around the corner. Reporting in Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Innovation and Design feature, Belinda Lanks says an inventor from the United Kingdom has developed a new prototype of a coffee cup that’s more easily recycled. That’s because this advanced cup features a “plastic liner that cleanly separates from its paper shell during the typical recycling process.”

The inventor: Martin Myerscough.

The product: Green Your Cup.

The best part: Theoretically, Green Your Cup coffee cups can be tossed in with other paper products for recycling. When all those products (e.g., magazines, newspapers, etc.) arrive at the recycling plant, they’re typically soaked in order to remove extras such as plastic films and inks—and, apparently, the plastic lining found in Myerscough’s design.

Myerscough is shopping Green Your Cup around the U.K. It will cost about 10 percent more to make than a standard coffee cup, but there’s a massive potential payoff for the environment. Here’s hoping we see the technology stateside soon.

Starbucks has committed to offering recycling at all of its stores by 2015. A technology such as Green Your Cup could make that commitment a lot more feasible.

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Category: Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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