The facts about coffee cups
Australians consume more than 50,000 cups of coffee every half hour, and an estimated 1 billion takeaway hot drink cups every year. If we lined up all the coffee cups used each year in Australia they would stretch round the world…twice! That’s a lot of coffee cups.
Sadly, standard coffee cups made from liquid paperboard are rarely recycled. Even 'compostable' cups are rarely composted, because Australia's existing composting facilities aren't yet able to process them effectively, and it can be hard to transport enough of the cups to the right place for composting.
This means coffee cups are a burden on our waste management services and our environment, filling up landfills and resulting in transport emission.
Why can't coffee cups currently be recycled?
In most areas of Victoria, the hard plastic lid can be recycled but the coffee cup itself should be put in the rubbish bin. Most cups are a mix of plastic and paper and only a few councils in Victoria can currently collect them for recycling. Check with your council or better still, take a reusable cup!
The good news about coffee cups
There are plenty of great alternatives to using disposable takeaway cups, and more and more cafes are happy for customers to bring their own – many will even offer a discount.
Coffee cups can be recycled; it simply requires a different approach. Existing paper recycling facilities can be adapted to process coffee cups or new technologies can be used. In order for this to happen in Australia, however, enough paper cups need to be recycled to provide a single resource stream. There are organisations in the process of introducing dedicated collection and recycling programs for coffee cups in Australia. They are aiming to collect 100 million drink cups per year, which would be enough to sustain a specialised recycling facility.
What you can do about coffee cups
Use reusable cups
Reduce, reuse, recycle. Do you really need to use disposable cups? If everyone used their own, reusable coffee cup we wouldn’t have a problem. There are many reusable cups – also known as 'keep-cups' – on the market now with funky designs and colours to suit you. Take a cup with you or have your coffee to stay.
Choose responsible cafes
Many cafes will offer a discount if you take your own reusable coffee cup. Find a responsible cafe near you.
Pool reusable cups in the office
Making reusable cups easily accessible in the office can prevent thousands of disposable cups from going to landfill every year. At Sustainability Victoria, we make reusable cups available in the kitchen and downstairs at the building concierge, so there is always a cup nearby when a staff member or guest needs one. Goodbye disposable cups.
Have your coffee to stay
Stop, sit, people-watch and take a break. If you're caught out without a keep-cup, have your coffee to stay.
Recycle the lid
Most coffee cup lids can be recycled if they have a plastics identification code stamp. Make sure you remove the lid from the cup before recycling it.
Confused by the triangle symbol?
Don't be tricked! This symbol on a coffee cup identifies the type of material that an item is made from rather than whether or not it can be recycled. In any case this symbol is generally on a coffee cup's sleeve, meaning that the image has nothing to do with the coffee cup itself. When these coffee cups are incorrectly thrown into recycling bins, they contaminate other, actually recyclable items. This either results in extra sorting being required, and therefore extra burden on the system, or the whole lot being thrown into landfill.