Don’t Actually Recycle Your Coffee Cup
Since COVID-19 did away with keep-cups and dining in, I’ve been accumulating takeaway coffee cups. I have about 60 by my front door. They are of varying environmental merit, and they join us today to show us how best to dispose of our morning beverage encasements.
You just blinked. As you did so, several thousand coffee cups were heedlessly flung into garbage bins. From thence they will be heedlessly flung into landfill. Oh my.
Some people feel fine about landfill. They present convincing arguments for its continuance, like how the Earth is so big that we’ll nearly never run out of space to stuff our stuff under the planet’s surface.
You, like me, might have a problem with the above scenario. Don’t worry. There’s no medical diagnosis for people like us yet, but there are coping strategies to replace our keep cups. For example, here is a simple guide to disposing of your coffee cup sustainably, so you don’t have to hoard.
Step 1: Know thy cup
Note: Recycle all lids as usual
1. Your cup is labelled ‘compostable’ or ‘biodegradable’: Don’t put it in your compost bin. Yes, you read that right.
Compostable coffee cups need special composting conditions. They have a plastic lining made of PLE plastic, which won’t biodegrade in your home compost. If you put them in the garbage, they’ll release methane (a super potent greenhouse gas) as they anaerobically decompose. It’s called screaming.
Find out if your council accepts coffee cups in compost. Otherwise, see Step 2.2 below.
2. Your cup is recyclable: If it’s a paper cup, don’t put it in the recycling bin. Yes, you read that right too.
The plastic liner needs to be removed from a recyclable paper cup, and recycled separately. A paper coffee cup in a normal recycling bin will screw things up. Many more items will be heedlessly flung into landfill.
Instead, find a local coffee cup recycling system (see Step 2.1 below).
3. Your cup says nothing and appears glossy and entitled: Throw it in the garbage bin. Find a new favourite café.
The transition period between cafés can be hard, but you’ll get through it. Plenty more fish. This time try to pick one that aligns with your values and supports your dreams.
Step 2.1: Find your local coffee cup recycling system
So where do you put your recyclable takeaway coffee cup? Google is great for finding specialised recycling initiatives near you.
Canada’s Vancouver started trialling a special coffee cup recycling bin in February.
I dropped off 30 cups at the BioPak cup collection station at a 7/11.
Step 2.2: Find your local coffee cup composting system
Check if your council has industrial composting and accepts coffee cups. Or, call the brand on your cup and ask them if they compost their own cups.
For example, BioPak composts their cups and lids within 8 weeks. Many councils also collect coffee cups for composting at city tips.
Ready to try?
Read your label. Google local coffee cup recycling programs. Or, find out where to put your compostable coffee cup.
Hopefully waste streams will soon make it easier to recycle or compost our coffee cups. For now, we do our best!