The difficulty of recycling coffee cups

Earlier this year the War on Waste, an ABC series hosted by The Chaser’s Craig Reucassel, saw Craig fill a tram full of take-away coffee cups, and announce that of the 1 billion coffee cups used in Australia every year, every one of them ends up in landfill.

In June, Biopak Founder and Director Richard Fine told BeanScene he was interviewed by Craig, and informed him that several councils were recycling paper cups. He provided the list to BeanScene, which shows dozens of councils that confirm they did recycle paper coffee cup.

“The facts presented in the War on Waste Episode last night were unfortunately not 100 per cent accurate as paper cups including BioCups are accepted in the paper recycling stream in many councils,” he said.

BeanScene Magazine has spoken with a publicist from the ABC to confirm why this information wasn’t included in the program. The publicist sent its enquiry through to production company Keo Films who hasn’t yet responded to our enquiry.

The real challenge with recycling paper cups, Richard told BeanScene, is not that paper cups can’t be recycled, but more that several leading recycling companies are simply refusing to do it. Richard nevertheless welcomed the media attention to put pressure on recycling companies to make the effort to recycle paper cups.

Last week, Grant Musgrove, CEO of the Australian Council of Recycling, noted there’s more to it than just the manufacturer.

He told Fairfax Media packaging companies need to stop dreaming up new “sustainable” packaging that can only be recycled by expensive specialised facilities. It should be made of out material already recyclable – such as cardboard.

“It’s relatively easy to come up with a new packaging format. Packaging companies that don’t talk to recycling companies first, and then complain about their product not being recycled – there is an abject lesson.”

Gayle Sloan, chief executive officer of Waste Management Association of Australia, told Fairfax Media: “The issue is not the industry. Rather, the issue lies with the packager choosing to make a product that they know does not have an end use.”

However, Fairfax Media reported the interviewees can all agree the government needs to take a lead and set a direction for both the packaging and recycling industries. The government could indicate whether the industry is to recycle and/or compost materials, including what materials recyclers could accept.