Friday 22 March 2019

Coffee drinkers confused about where to bin their cups as use of compostable cups rises

Stock photo: Getty Images
Stock photo: Getty Images
Conor McCrave

Conor McCrave

Coffee drinkers are confused about how they should dispose of single use coffee cups as more than half a million are binned every day in Ireland.

Facilities to recycle disposable coffee cups are not available in Ireland, but as many cups display the recyclable logo consumers are putting them into recycling bins instead of general waste.

The logo refers specifically to the hard plastic lid and the cardboard sleeve which can be recycled, while the interior of the cups contains micro particles and cannot be recycled.  

“As disposable cups are made largely from paper many people believe they can be recycled, but unfortunately this is not the case,” said Pauline McDonagh of Recycling List Ireland.

“These cups are lined with plastic polyethylene which is fused to the paper making the cups waterproof but also difficult to recycle.

“Of course single use cups are also contaminated by the drink they contained, which is yet another reason why they cannot be added to the bin of clean and dry recyclables,” she added.

“Recycling List Ireland is not suggesting however that anyone goes without their regular cuppa but we are appealing to consumers to consider using the ceramic cup in their favourite café or bring along a re-usable cup for their take away.

“Once the reusable cup has been used more than 15 times, it is more sustainable than a disposable cup.”

Each year more than 200 million coffee cups which cannot be recycled are used and disposed of.

In recent months, coffee chains including Insomnia and Frank and Honest Coffee have introduced compostable coffee cups in a bid to reduce waste from single use cups that cannot be recycled.

However, there are fears that consumers are mistakenly putting these cups into recycling bins instead of compostable bins which are collected by waste management companies who bring them to a compost facility.

“Some companies have started to offer compostable cups but it is important to note that these cups cannot be disposed of in the recycling bin either,” warns Dr Shane Bergin, Assistant Professor in Science Education at UCD.

“They must instead be put in the compost bin for disposal by a professional waste collection company. These cups do not break down naturally the way an apple does for example, they only work if they are disposed of in a food waste recycling bin and processed in a commercial compost facility.”

Single use cups are also unsuitable for compost heaps that some households use to get rid of peelings and waste food.

“While plastic is the major concern, many paper cups that are disposed of in Ireland by the second are made from virgin paper pulp,” said Dr Bergin.

“Add to this the carbon footprint of coffee cup manufacturing and distribution and it is clear that disposable coffee cups have a serious impact on our environment.”

Over  1,000 cafés in Ireland are now giving a discount to consumers with a reusable coffee cup and are geo-tagged at  

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