Chances are, if you bought your favorite coffee in a paper cup this morning, that cup cannot be recycled.
About 50 billion cups in the U.S. end up in landfills every year, enough that if placed end to end, they would go to the moon and back roughly five times.
British inventor Martin Myerscough was puzzled by this and has now come up with an alternative to make the recycling process easier.
Most paper cups are made from cardboard with a thin layer of plastic tightly attached on to the cup.
This keeps the drink warm and prevents the cardboard from becoming soggy. But it also makes the cup non-recyclable — which comes as a surprise to many.
A 2011 report by the UK-based consumer group Which? found that 8 in 10 people in the UK thought paper coffee cups could already be disposed of in paper recycling bins.
The campaign group is now urging retailers to provide clearer information about recycling.
Myerscough’s Green Your Cup is different.
“We went back a step, what we’ll do is make the cup out of cardboard, without any plastic on it and we’ll put a plastic liner in it afterwards,” he said.
This way the plastic lining can then be easily separated in a recycling plant — the liner gets stuck in the filters, while the cardboard goes through and can be recycled and used up to further seven times as newspapers.
Myerscough said there will be no difference to the consumer.
“It will taste the same, it will look the same, you can put your lips to it the same. Instead of putting it in the general waste you put this in the recycling – that’s it,” he said.
His company is now in talks with coffee shop chains and existing cup makers, in the hope the technology is adopted: “It’ll take us till next year to get going properly. So the idea is to license the technology to existing cup makers, they can use part of their existing machines and buy our machine and bolt it on as well.”
Environment campaigners are praising the idea. “This goes to the heart of sustainable business practice and gives us all the chance to make better choices when we buy our favorite drink,” Rainforest Alliance’s Stuart Singleton-White said.