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New Zealand Company develops Sustainable Solution to Coffee Cup problem

New Zealand Company develops Sustainable Solution to Coffee Cup problem

New Zealand Company develops Sustainable Solution to Coffee Cup problem

An innovative New Zealand packaging company has developed an alternative environmentally friendly solution to traditional oil-based takeaway coffee cups, which are not able to be recycled, and have no end of life option other than ending up in landfill.

Ecoware – has worked for the past decade on solutions to the problem of coffee cups being consigned to landfill, producing a product derived from naturally-occurring plant sugar, and actively encouraging the composting of coffee cups.

Recent media reports have highlighted that despite many takeaway cups being labeled recyclable, the vast majority of them end up in landfill due to the inner lining of the cups being made from polyethylene, or PE, a plastic material derived from oil.

Some packaging companies have suggested that cups can be recycled and the paperboard component of the cup re-used, if you float the PE lining away from the paperboard.  However, the cost and complexity of this process sees the majority of cups consumed from our daily coffee ritual sitting in landfill.

The director of waste education social enterprise Beyond the Bin, Kim Renshaw says “I don’t think many people are aware of the plastic lining inside a standard coffee cup, or the oil-based wax inside a standard cold-drink cup.”

“It’s my understanding that the attempts to recycle coffee cups overseas have not worked due to the additional temperatures required to separate the plastic lining from the cardboard, the damage to machinery and cost of the process.”

In recognizing the problem, Ecoware, a company based on Auckland’s North Shore, set out almost a decade ago in search of a more environmentally friendly alternative.

James Calver, director of Ecoware, says he “identified the coffee cup issue years ago and thought that there had to be a better solution.”

Ecoware partnered with US based company, NatureWorks six years ago and using alternative raw materials have slowly transitioned the coffee industry towards a greener future.

A key part of their solution, has been developing a product made from plants, instead of oil-based plastic.  The product used to line their EcoCupsä is a BioPlastic called Ingeoä, derived from naturally-occurring plant sugar.

Instead of using non-renewable resources, such as oil, the EcoCup is made up of long molecular chains of the polymer polylactide, known as PLA, which are derived from annually renewable resources (plants).

Ecoware acknowledge that a lot of their cups do end up in landfill, due to the current commercial waste infrastructure however, through the use of Ingeoä their EcoCup emits up to 75% less greenhouse gas emisions than the standard oil based cup lining during the production process, or ‘pre life’.

They have been at the forefront of education and industry initiatives to find a long term solution to the takeaway coffee cup problem.  The solution is in composting, and ensuring that packaging products are compostable.

Ecoware were recently involved in a nationwide study commissioned by the Packaging Forum to identify how many composting facilities existed in NZ, how many of these facilities accepted the EcoCup, and how many facilities were working towards accepting the EcoCup.

The research identified that the country has ninety-eight composting facilities.  Currently, twelve of these facilities will accept the EcoCup, while an additional thirteen composting plants are working towards accepting EcoCups, which will allow takeaway coffee cups to be regenerated into soil.

In looking at the results of the research, Kim Renshaw from Beyond the Bin said – “we know that reusable coffee cups are the best option, but beyond that PLA-lined compostable coffee cups are the next best option. We can’t expect council’s or commercial waste companies to develop infrastructure to collect compostable coffee cups in public places until economies of scale kick in. The more retailers who switch to compostable, the more likely we’ll be to end up with a public-place compost collection.”

“PLA-lined coffee cups would break down readily in most of NZ’s windrow composting facilities without additional processes. This is good news because NZ has 98 commercial composting facilities which could potentially process this kind of waste and turn it into soil.”

Lyn Mayes, Manager of the Packaging Forum’s Public Place Recycling Scheme said: “Ecoware is a founding member of the Public Place Recycling Scheme which sets out to make sure packaging consumed in public places does not end up as rubbish or worse litter. We actively promote composting solutions alongside recycling and that’s why we commissioned the survey to identify available resources.”

For Ecoware Director, James Calver – “Issues like this have been gaining momentum for decades and they won’t just fix themselves overnight. It’s going to take time, but the positive news is that there are more environmentally friendly alternatives out there and we believe with time, we can reduce the impact food packaging is having on our environment.”


Recent Case Study – Coffee Cup Composting

  • NZ has 98 composting facilities.
  • Recent research shows NZ currently has 12 composting facilities that will accept the EcoCup, spread across the North and South Island.
  • There are an additional 13 facilities that are currently working towards accepting the EcoCup, they are currently running trials or finalising consents.
  • A further 30 facilities may be able to process the EcoCup in the near future.
  • In summary, the NZ composting industry can be broadly described as in ‘growth phase’.