If you drink much coffee (or have ever been to a cafe, worked in an office or looked through other people's rubbish), you've probably realised that Australia's cafe culture produces a huge number of wasted takeaway cups. But what you may not know is that these cups are not recyclable. Though coffee cups feature paper on the outside, the liquid-proof inside lining is made of plastic, which means the cups cannot be recycled like other cardboard items. It also means they take on average 50 years to decompose in landfill.
There is currently no facility in Australia that is able to recycle takeaway coffee cups, but Closed Loop hopes to change that. The Australian company — which offers waste management and environmental solutions to a range of companies, including Noma when it was in Sydney — just completed a trial to help make the case for their proposal. The trial, which received a $17,500 grant from the City of Sydney, introduced standalone bins for takeaway coffee cups into three office buildings across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. 12,000 cups were collected over four weeks, successfully demonstrating that people would be willing to use such bins.
And after they've been collected? Closed Loop has worked with researchers from the UK, where they already run a similar cup collection and recycling program, to develop technology that combines the materials in the cups with a polymer to produce a plastic-fibre compound. It can be used to make placemats, coasters and outdoor furniture. Based on the success of the pilot (that is, people using the bins correctly), Closed Loop is proposing to set up a dedicated facility to recycle them. Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore estimates that if the program were to go ahead, more than 25 million coffee cups could avoid ending up in landfill per year from the City of Sydney area alone.
Given that around one million disposable coffee cups end up in landfill per minute worldwide, it's good to know there are people trying to tackle the issue. We'll keep an eye on this one to see where it goes.