The ABC TV series entitled ‘The War on Waste’ was compelling viewing and if you haven’t yet seen it, then I recommend you watch it.
However, one thing needs clarification, SOME coffee cups ARE recyclable. The WoW made it seem as though all disposable coffee cups are non recyclable in Australia (without specialist recycling facilities) and that is simply not the case. Several coffee cup manufacturers place a huge emphasis on the lifecycle of their disposable packaging and we partner with one of them for all of the cups each of our cafe’s purchase through us.
So we caught up with EcoBarista’s Zac Fryer and he clarified some fundamental questions.
Firstly, what is the best choice between degradable, biodegradable and compostable?
Essentially degradable means the plastic will break down into small pieces eventually. Biodegradable means the product will break down into basic organic materials eventually. Any company can use the term biodegradable on their packaging as there is no regulation over the terminology. If it breaks down (eventually), then it can be termed degradable or biodegradable. However, this process could take 2000 years!
Far more importantly is certified compostable. The Australian Standard (AS 4736—2006) outlines the requirements for a product to be labeled compostable. It is certified by the Australasian Bioplastics Association and Australia’s rigorous standard requires that the compostable material also produces no toxins during and after its composting process.
Are the lids and cups compostable or recyclable?
Both the lids and cups are compostable IF the council has a commercial composting facility. This is where the biggest issue lies. Not all councils have facilities that accept the composting or recycling of t/a coffee cups.
Certified compostable coffee cups can also be recycled in the paper recycling bins and the lids can be recycled into the harder plastic recycling bins if the council doesn’t have the appropriate composting facility established. We are happy to report that Byron Shire Council does indeed accept our coffee cups and lids in thegreen organic compost bins AND the cups into the paper recycling with lids into plastic recycling.
What makes the cups and lids compostable?
It all has to do with the materials chosen to make the plastic. Our cups and lids use PLA (polylactic acid) plastic. PLA’s are made exclusively from renewable resources such as sugarcane or corn starch NOT from petrochemicals. PLA plastics break down entirely in the composting facilities within 120 days. A commercial worm farm will break them down entirely within 45-60 days! The PLA lining of our cups also breaks down during the pulping process of paper/cardboard recycling too. So if the cups end up in the paper recycling bin and the council’s waste management provider accepts them then they will be recycled into new materials.
What happens if they end up in landfill?
Due to the lack of light, air and heat generated in landfill nothing breaks down. They are simply buried and become the futures problem.
Coffee cups make up less than 0.1% of landfill in Australia and whilst it has been great that the WoW has generated such engaging discussions, the focus should really be shifted to other materials that present a far greater waste problem, one such example is rubber tires. The fact remains that a large number of disposable packaging companies are doing their best to reduce waste and ensure they minimise their impact on the environment. Its up to councils to hold recycling facilities accountable and ensure that these products are in fact recycled or better yet composted.
We at Marvell Street have always taken our environmental impact seriously which is why we have been working with EcoBarista for the past 4 years. We try to consider our place in the greater world around us and have always had a strong focus on sustainability and the environment.
We are proud that Byron Council both recycles paper cups and also composts them!
This is a list of other confirmed councils in NSW and in QLD that currently accept coffee cups for recycling:
ABC War on Waste
Biopak - How much of landfill is coffee cups?