Here Are The Facts
There are also potential issues caused by some of the plastic alternatives used to ensure the coffee cups are waterproof. Go-Pak makes Edenware coffee cups made of paperboard lined with plant- based polylactic acid (PLA). Mike Bristow, Sales Director at Go-Pak, states that PLA lining “is only compostable in commercial facilities where temperature, humidity, and other variables are controlled to facilitate effective biodegradation.”
Other plants that recycle ordinary coffee cups will not accept these linings. Mandy Kelly, Senior Recycling Manager, said: “ACE UK do not want to receive PLA as part of the infeed stock for the plant as it contaminates our separated polyal output stream.”
Studies have also found that if sent to landfill, PLA will decompose anaerobically and can produce methane. So compostable cups have the potential to create more environmental issues than disposable containers..
Searching For Solutions To Sustainable Coffee Cups
Vegware – a manufacturer of over 300 certified compostable food packaging products – is working to ensure that its products reach the correct facilities. They work closely with their clients and the waste sector to ensure that they have appropriate waste collectors in place. Its coffee cups use CPLA (crystallised PLA) and have been designed to be recycled with food waste via industrial composting.
They work to enhance understanding among consumers about where to dispose of products, setting up stands in canteens, as well as creating clear, bespoke bin signs. While the cups cannot be composted in the average home composting bin, Vegware has collaborated with HOTBIN. This is a home compost bin that heats waste to 60oC. On trials showing the bin can successfully compost Vegware’s products within 12 weeks.
Compostable cups, when composted properly, are more environmentally friendly than standard coffee cups. Vegware is working with the waste industry to improve access to composting facilities. However, a concerted effort is needed to keep these items out of residual waste and dry recycling – or they could simply create another complex waste stream.
So if all these things say they are compostable, why can’t I recycle them in my food bin?
They may be made from natural materials, and therefore compostable, but some compostable coffee cups can take months to break. On the other hand, food and garden waste only takes six weeks at a composting facility. The only thing you can put in your food bin (other than natural waste) are compostable food bags with the EN13432 seedling logo on. These bags are made from potato starch so they break down at the same rate as food and garden waste.
So if it’s not food or garden waste, it belongs in your general waste bin.
We tried our compostable cups and they did break down in home compost in around 90 days, which is why we chose them at the time. They were not the perfect solution but seemed to be the best option at the time. However as things have progressed, we are now able to switch to recyclable cups. They can go in with a normal recycle stream, at only a minor price increase and produced in Europe rather than China. However, these cups still need to find their way into recycling streams. The majority of cups are taken off-site and not taken home this is still a huge problem as the majority will still end up in landfill.