Trial tackles Sydney’s addiction to coffee cups

A stand-alone bin for takeaway coffee cups could soon be a common sight in offices across Sydney following a successful trial backed by the City of Sydney.

The trial tackled the impact of Australia’s coffee cup addiction on landfill. Few coffee drinkers realise all those discarded takeaway cups have serious environmental impacts, with the average cup taking 50 years to decompose.

A trial run by Closed Loop Environmental Solutions placed bins for takeaway coffee cups in three office buildings in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to make the case for a dedicated takeaway coffee cup recycling facility.

Over the four-week trial at Sydney law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, 4,278 coffee cups were placed in the dedicated bins, proving office workers were willing to make sustainable choices when it came to recycling their coffee cups.

The City supported the Sydney trial with a $17,500 grant.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said Sydney’s café culture was world renowned, with baristas producing thousands of excellent coffees every day.

“The vast majority of those coffee cups are going straight to landfill,” the Lord Mayor said.

“Although the exterior of a takeaway coffee cup is paper, each cup has an interior liner made from plastic that takes around 50 years to break down in landfill.

“These takeaway coffee cups are presenting us with a major environmental dilemma. We don’t have a dedicated recycling facility in Australia that can deal with the coffee cup structure, so the billion coffee cups sold every year usually end up in landfill.

“If we stacked all the coffee cups discarded annually in Australia, they would stretch from the Gold Coast right around the eastern and southern coast along Highway 1 all the way to Perth and back again.

“The trial of 780 workers from Herbert Smith Freehills resulted in 1.4 coffee cups being recycled per worker each week. If this was replicated at offices across the City of Sydney area, we could divert more than 25 million coffee cups from landfill every year.”

Closed Loop Environmental Solutions Managing Director, Robert Pascoe said the trial showed that office workers would recycle takeaway coffee cups if given a dedicated bin.

“A similar program in the UK collects used coffee cups and takes them to a dedicated facility where they are shredded and made into polymer, a durable plastic which can be used for carry trays, placemats, coasters, outdoor furniture or even used in shop fit outs,” Mr Pascoe said.

“This trial has shown that coffee drinkers will use an alternative bin for takeaway cups and if a dedicated facility was set up, tens of millions of cups could be diverted from landfill every year.”

Closed Loop also runs a coffee cup collection program in the UK where it has recycled more than 7 million cups.

“The biggest hurdle to establishing a recycling solution is the separation of coffee cups from other waste streams. Coffee cups move through the recycling sorting process just like cardboard, but they cannot be recycled in the same way as cardboard because of the liquid-proof liner,” Mr Pascoe said.

“This means coffee cups are a nuisance for cardboard recyclers and they all get thrown into landfill.

“The pilot project is showing that coffee cups can be collected separately using a clean, simple and efficient system. We collected 12,000 cups from three office buildings in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney over a four-week period.

“We teamed up with researchers in the UK and have developed a technology that combines the coffee cups with a polymer. The output is a durable plastic-fibre compound that can be used for almost anything.”

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