Published 3 weeks ago.
About a 5 minute read.
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Insights include solutions for paper mills, materials-recovery facilities, brands, consumers and communities to increase recovery of paper cups and reduce waste to landfill.
This week, the NextGen Consortium — an industry collaboration managed by Closed Loop Partners aimed at
eliminating single-use foodservice packaging waste by advancing the design,
commercialization and recovery of alternative materials and use models —
released a new report with practical steps to accelerating paper cup recycling
in the US.
Closing the Loop on Cups assesses
the role of each stakeholder across the paper cup-recovery value chain
— including paper mills, materials-recovery facilities (MRFs),
brands, consumers and local communities — and provides recommended
actions to increase paper cup recovery opportunities and advance a more circular
Every day, millions of people around the world drink from paper cups. They're
safe, functional and convenient — so much so that globally, more than 250
billion cups are produced each year. But convenience comes with environmental
consequences: Unrecyclable and non-biodegradable, thanks to a plastic inner
liner that helps retain temperature and reduce seepage, the majority of paper cups end
up in landfill. The NextGen Consortium proposes a three-pronged approach to
address cup waste holistically:
Advancing reusable-cup systems that keep materials in circulation for multiple uses
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Exploring material-science innovation that enhances the sustainability and recoverability of cup materials, and
Strengthening materials-recovery and -recycling infrastructure that recaptures cups after use.
In the new report, the Consortium — which includes founding partners Starbucks
sector lead partners The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo; and supporting
partners JDE Peet's, The Wendy's Company and Yum! Brands —
highlights the need to strengthen existing materials-recovery and -recycling
infrastructure systems to recapture more paper cups; which will ensure the value
embodied in paper cups is recovered, rather than wasted in landfill. These cups
contain high-quality fiber that is valuable to paper mills as other paper
sources such as newsprint and office paper decline. While the challenges for
paper-cup recovery and recycling are significant, collaboration among various
stakeholders involved throughout the value chain can help address its scale and
"The waste generated from to-go paper cups has become a highly visible
representation of our disposable, take-make-waste culture. However, these cups
also are a valuable resource with growing opportunities for recovery," says
Kate Daly, Managing Director and Head of
the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. "We know that
collaboration across stakeholders — from mills and MRFs to brands and cities —
is going to be critical to solving this challenge and ensuring paper cups don't
end up in landfill or polluting our environment. The NextGen Consortium plays a
key role in advancing the innovation, testing and partnerships needed to make
Since its founding in 2018, the NextGen Consortium has taken a holistic and
collaborative approach to addressing the challenge of single-use cup waste,
advancing reuse models, exploring material-science innovations and strengthening
materials-recovery and -recycling infrastructure that recaptures cups after use.
While material reduction and reuse are key pathways to reduce reliance on virgin
resource extraction, end-of-life recovery pathways are equally critical to
ensure that the value embodied in all types of cups — including single-use paper
cups — is recovered, rather than wasted in landfill.
As companies and brands work to eliminate plastic and other single-use material
waste from their operations, many understandably look to paper-based products
for solutions. But although paper/paperboard has one of the higher recycling
rates in the US at around 68
that number comes from separated material. Many blended and composite materials
(such as beverage cups) are hard, if not impossible, to adequately recycle with
— and thus, they often languish in landfill.
solutions to the beverage-cup-recyclability problem are being piloted in various
markets; but while we’re waiting for them to scale, Closing the Loop on Cups
highlights key market challenges and corresponding opportunities, including:
Today, only about 11 percent of communities accept cups in their recycling
operations. This poses a significant barrier to cup recycling, as residents
have few options to properly recycle their used cups.
While only a handful of cities in the US officially accept cups in their
recycling programs, the Foodservice Packaging Institute identified more than
30 paper mills that accept paper cups in mixed-paper bales and an additional
five mills accepting cups in carton bales. These mills are taking recovered
paper materials, including cups, and reprocessing them into new products.
This year, the NextGen Consortium identified more than 15 additional mills
across North America that are interested in testing cup acceptance or
that can process cups today. This new interest is a tremendous endorsement
for the work that is already taking place and can catalyze cup acceptance at
MRFs and in new communities in the months and years ahead.
Each stakeholder in the value chain has an important role to play in
improving paper-cup recycling. The report outlines key calls to action,
including calling on:
Mills to conduct recycling tests on paper cups to determine if the
fiber can be captured without any negative operational impacts at their
MRFs to conduct material-flow studies to determine where best to
site interventions for cup sortation and to collaborate with mills and
communities to expand acceptable recycling lists as more mills accept
Communities to engage with MRFs and mills to evaluate feasibility of
adding cups to accepted recyclables list;
Consumers to bring their own reusable cups when they can — a program
that Starbucks recently expanded to more stores in the
— and to check local recyclability options and guidance when using
Brands to source recycled-paper content when procuring their cups
and other packaging, among other activities.
As the NextGen Consortium works toward its goal of eliminating foodservice
packaging waste, it will continue to work to improve and align recovery and
recycling infrastructure across the entire value chain — from collection and
sortation to processing and strengthening end markets. Collaborative action,
data-driven decision-making and iterative testing continue to be critical to
closing the loop on a greater diversity and volume of valuable resources and
avoiding unintended consequences. The findings in this report aim to guide the
industry towards a future in which reusing valuable materials in products
becomes the commonsense norm — the basis of a more circular economy.
Published Nov 2, 2023 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET