Coffee cups: truths and myths, facts and fiction

These days, coffee cups are made from all sorts of materials: plastics, cardboard, bioplastics, etc. Is it any wonder that it is hard to see the wood for the trees and to make the right choice? Should we keep these ‘disposables’ and recycle them or is it better to use a sustainable alternative such as a reusable beverage bottle?

Nowadays, the marketplace is full of all kinds of different advice. As your waste management partner, Indaver is keen to offer some clarity so you can make the most sustainable choice.

  1. First and foremost, let us commit together to PREVENTION: 
    Preventing waste is always better. So, consider opting for a porcelain coffee mug*.

    *Rinse immediately or use the dishwasher. 

  2. What if you opt for single-use coffee cups anyway? 

    There are a variety of materials to choose from these days:

  • Traditional polystyrene (PS) cup: these days you collect this
    • EITHER with your residual waste (high energy yield)
    • OR separately as a mono-stream for mechanical recycling:
      • Then it goes off to specific treatment centres in Europe for a ‘downcycling’ solution. There, the coffee cups are recycled into products such as black or rusty brown flower pots, but they no longer have the purity of the original raw material.
  • Bioplastic coffee cups
    • First alternative to polystyrene
    • Made of organic raw materials (natural oils such as palm oil)
    • 2 options:
      • Non-biodegradable variant which is still thermally treated
      • Biodegradable variant (PLA material).

                             The latter:

                              •    Can be recycled into degradable plastic bags for VGF waste
                              •    Can NEVER be combined with other plastics and other compostable waste because even though it is
                                   biodegradable it will not be accepted by final processors (composting facilities). The process is
                                   environmentally unsustainable
                              •    Can NEVER be combined with other plastics because this causes problems during mechanical recycling

  • Cardboard coffee cups
    • Every cardboard coffee cup for hot drinks has a coating. This coating is applied to the inside of the cup to prevent the drink from seeping out
    • This coating may:
      • Be degradable (PLA material). This makes recycling possible, but in that case:
        • These coffee cups must be collected separately
        • They CANNOT go into the cardboard and paper stream 
      • Be non-degradable (PE material) which is still thermally processed

The market for plastics and the recycling of plastics is constantly evolving. More and more alternatives are emerging. What if you can no longer see the wood for the trees or are still not sure what to choose? Get in touch with your Indaver contact. He or she can help you decide what the best solution is with the highest environmental efficiency depending on the volumes of coffee cups released.

Coffee cups – a few rules of thumb no matter which type you have:

  • No canteen waste inside; no cigarette butts either
  • Collect as a separate stream so that it is recyclable

Indaver invests in innovative Plastics2Chemicals project

Indaver is keen to play a pioneering role in the field of high-quality plastic recycling. The Plastics2Chemicals (P2C) project is an ambitious ‘recycling’ project for plastics that cannot be recycled today. To this end, Indaver examines these plastics right down to the most minute level, namely the building blocks, the molecules from which plastics are made. For P2C, Indaver uses an innovative depolymerisation technique that cuts these molecules up into shorter hydrocarbon chains. In this manner, these plastics are converted into high-quality base chemicals to be used as a raw material for the (petro)chemical industry.

By working at the level of chemical bonds, we want to offer a trailblazing solution to the plastics problem. The plan is therefore to build the first demonstration plant and to get it up and running by early 2021. This would convert some 15 kilotonnes per annum of plastics into base chemicals.

There is nothing actually wrong with existing (mechanical) recycling technologies, but if there are too many impurities in a waste stream the technological possibilities are limited. These impurities are mainly found in soft(er) plastics, such as films, margarine tubs, yoghurt pots, various food trays and, of course, the familiar white plastic coffee cups. All these products have been treated to preserve the packaged item for as long as possible and with the highest possible quality. That is why these kinds of packaging have been treated with chemical coatings or various laminates. When it comes to recycling them, these are the interfering materials or impurities that make this problematic. A recycling solution has yet to be found for these end-of-life products. They are thermally treated and converted into the maximum possible energy.

Share this page