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How to Recycle Take-Away Coffee Cups

How to Recycle Take-Away Coffee Cups

Australians use more than 400 million disposable 'paper' coffee cups each year.  While most coffee cup lids are recyclable, (just make sure yours has one of the numbers 1 to 6 in the recycle triangle), the actual cup is not recyclable. Some are technically compostable - those using a biodegradable lining, but none are recyclable. 

The majority of disposable coffee cups have a polystyrene lining to prevent the cup from going soft and flimsy. It is this lining that renders these disposable coffee cups un-recyclable.

There are a number of companies now making reusable take away coffee cups like Keep Cup and Onya. These reusable coffee cups are made of polypropylene and Silicon and will last for several years. Coffee shops are more than happy to make your coffee in your reusable coffee cup and most sell their own reusable cups.

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Science Notes
Even though coffee cups are generally 95% paper or cardboard and 5% polyethylene coating; the coating makes the cup unrecyclable. When paper and cardboard are recycled, they go through a pulping stage: water is added to the paper and cardboard to make a pulp mixture. This plastic coating does not dissolve or break down in this process and therefore contaminates the recycled paper. 

'Compostable' cups have a bioplastic lining which is made from corn rather than petroleum. The good news is that the use of corn based plastic uses a renewable resource and emits less greenhouse gas in the manufacturing process, but you should be aware it is likely to be GM corn. The cups also still probably go into your rubbish bin. If you put them in your compost, you will probably find them still there when everything else has broken down. Typical backyard compost doesn't get hot enough to break it down.
Related Tip
Most coffee shops sell their own reusable coffee cups, but the best thing to do is to drink out of your favourite cup and save buying another piece of stuff.