Coffee cup recycling in action

coffee cup recycling

Detpak’s RecycleMe system provides cafés with a closed loop solution to tackle coffee cup waste and is expanding to guarantee fewer cups end up in landfill.

Coffee cups have played a large role in discussions of unnecessary waste heading to landfill. This is largely down to amplified industry awareness around single-use packaging, which in turn has driven consumer consciousness.

Tom Lunn, Group General Manager – Marketing and Innovation at sustainable packaging supplier Detpak, says this is because it’s an issue that’s easy to relate to, and more importantly, address.

“Most people can recognise or understand the issue, and the industry can actually do something about it now,” Tom says.

Traditional disposable coffee cups are coated with polyethylene and other plastics to seal the cup and hold in liquid. This coating, including the bioplastic used in compostable cups,  is incompatible with most paper recycling facilities, meaning the cups are instead diverted to landfill.

To overcome this, Detpak introduced the RecycleMe system in late 2018. RecycleMe cups use a patented lining that can be processed in a normal paper recycling plant, meaning no changes to infrastructure are required. The cups are collected through collection points at participating venues and collection partner Shred-X gathers, shreds, and delivers the cups straight to paper mills, where they are recycled into office paper.

“RecycleMe has proven successful, particularly in the specialty coffee industry. I think that’s because this segment is really driven by sustainability values and the same can be said about its consumers,” Tom says.

“The specialty end has led this change, but more and more, larger commercial chains are prioritising sustainability much higher in their businesses as well.”

One of the first Australian roasters to see the value of RecycleMe, and share it with its wholesale customers, was Tim Adams Specialty Coffee in Queensland. Founder Tim Adams says it was important to incorporate sustainability throughout his business.

coffee cup recycling
Tim Adams Specialty Coffee was one of the first roasters to adopt RecycleMe.

“Sustainability can mean a lot of things in a number of areas. For us, we feel strongly about sustainably sourcing the green coffee we buy from producers and can carry that philosophy across our business all the way to takeaway packaging,” Tim says.

“When [ABC series] War on Waste was released a few years ago, everyone went up in arms about finding a more sustainable alternative to disposable cups. The bring-your-own cup concept has had huge growth, but it’s unrealistic to always carry it around. From a hygiene perspective, we’ve been handed a lot of dirty cups, and people are putting themselves at risk of contaminating their drink with old milk and coffee. Reusable cups are a great solution, but there needs to be a more reliable fallback. RecycleMe provides this and acts as an approachable solution for the average consumer.”

Tim adds that an additional appeal of RecycleMe comes from the reassurance that its collection points provide.

“The biggest impact we can have as a roaster to influence the general consumer is through the individual cafés we supply to. RecycleMe is the only sustainable packaging product we felt provides a fully closed loop system, where we could guarantee the packaging was disposed of correctly,” Tim says. “Having so many wholesale customers out there, it’s hard to track what each one is doing, so providing them with a secure solution they could explain to their customers was key.”

While uptake started slowly, Tim says his wholesale customers have begun to embrace what RecycleMe can offer them and their customers.

“For years, the market has been hearing about the benefits of biodegradable or compostable products. To have something fully recyclable was a shock to a lot of our clients, so it took a little while for them to see the potential of it,” he says.

“With a bit of education, reasoning, and communication about why it’s such a good solution, the system has really picked up traction. At the end of the day, we don’t own the cafés, can’t make them use RecycleMe, and can only lead them to the solution.”

Another Queensland-based company to recently take up RecycleMe is specialty coffee chain Good Bean. General Manager Rhys Miller says Good Bean aims to use products that will make a positive impact.

“Sustainability is one of our core values and don’t just treat it like a marketing tool. We’re conscious about our planet and believe we need to contribute as much as we can to reducing waste,” Rhys says. 

“I’ve been searching for a while for a sustainable coffee cup solution, and in RecycleMe I think we’ve found a closed loop system that actually works.”

coffee cup recycling
Detpak’s RecycleMe System ensures the collection and recycling of coffee cups.

Good Bean consists of 14 stores spread across Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria, each of which will implement RecycleMe in October 2019. Rhys says rolling out RecycleMe across more than a dozen locations will help increase the presence and visibility of the recycling system.

“A single café would still contribute, but across our sites, we’re going through thousands upon thousands of cups per year. I think introducing RecycleMe across a number of stores will make a big impact,” Rhys says. “One of the benefits of RecycleMe is that its collection points provide a platform where the consumer can clearly see what they need to do, and what will happen after they’ve disposed of their cup.”

Rhys adds that for the most part, consumers want to do the right thing, and there is a growing demand for sustainable alternatives.

“The more educated the general population gets about what sustainability means and how we need to embrace it, the better engagement we’ll have, and the more people will chase down places with options like RecycleMe,” he says. 

“We’re going to encourage everyone to bring their cups back and put the onus on our community to do the right thing. People don’t need to provide financial incentives to look after their own planet and I want our communities to step up alongside us.”

To further improve the approachability of its RecycleMe system, Detpak introduced a collection bag service in September. This provides smaller cafés, offices, schools, or remote locations with special bags in which they can collect used RecycleMe cups and mail them direct to Shred-X, ensuring they are processed properly for recycling. Detpak’s Tom says this enables smaller venues to access the closed loop solution.

“Rather than having the commitment of a front-of-house collection station and regular pickup, for someone only using a few hundred cups a week, they can keep the bag behind the counter, collect the cups, and post them back at their own pace,” Tom says. “There are no contracts for set up and collection, so it’s easier to implement in low-use locations and still guarantees that cups collected will be recycled into paper.”

This article appears in FULL in the October 2019 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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