Could separate bins to recycle coffee cups one day be a common sight across Melbourne? It is estimated more than 500 million cardboard coffee cups end up in landfill across Australia every year.
Although the plastic lids are recyclable, a polyethylene layer inside many takeaway cups — to waterproof them — ensures they cannot be recycled with other cardboard and are not easily biodegradable.
Cardboard pulping facilities often reject an entire batch if a load contains too many coffee cups that came in with commingled recycling.
To tackle the issue Brendan Lee, from environmental solutions company Closed Loop, said it was developing a business case for a coffee cup reprocessing facility for Australia.
“Participating organisations would have dedicated coffee cup collection tubes,” Mr Lee said.
“These would be collected separately to general waste and co-mingled recycling.
“Depending on the technology, it may be viable for a single processing centre or multiple processing centres in each city.”
In the UK Closed Loop and researchers have combined cups with a polymer to produce a plastic-fibre compound, but Mr Lee said this and other reprocessing options were not yet available in Australia.
Closed Loop’s plans come after a trial the company completed with Australian Packaging Covenant over 18 days last year, in which more than 3500 cups were collected from a Melbourne office.
Mr Lee said the trial aimed to dismiss views that manually separating coffee cups from recyclables was too hard and expensive.
“By separating the cups at the point of entry to the waste stream, the economics of the system may be viable,” he said.
Regarding coffee cups that came in with commingled recycling, Visy said it measured contamination and, if it took 5 per cent of the bin’s volume, the company advised customers to remove the contamination or organise an extra collection for general waste.
David McNamara, spokesman for Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, said there were many things to consider before proceeding with infrastructure of this kind — including any extra costs associated with it — and encouraged Victorians to choose reusable cups instead.
Sustainability Victoria estimated it had saved more than 15,000 cups from going to landfill each year, since making reusable cups available in its office.