The growing backlash against plastic waste has a new target: paper coffee cups.
Paper cups sourced from sustainable forests have for years been hailed as a more environmentally friendly option than plastic foam, with Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. recently pledging to switch to paper.
But paper cups are attracting new scrutiny, because they contain a tightly bonded plastic lining that needs to be separated before the paper can be recycled. The process requires specialized facilities, meaning most cups, even if put in the recycling bin, end up as trash. The issue is gaining attention as consumer awareness rises about how plastic water bottles, bags, straws and other products used just once before being thrown away are ending up in oceans and hurting the environment.
The makers of paper cups defend their products, saying the focus should be on ensuring they are properly recycled. The cups must be collected separately so they can be trucked to facilities that have the ability to separate the lining from the paper.
“There is the capability to recycle a paper cup in its current form; it’s just getting the product to our paper mills that’s the challenge,” said Stefan Pryor, market sector manager for U.K. paper mill James Cropper PLC.
Still, the pushback against paper cups has grown, especially in Europe. Starbucks this summer started charging a five pence (7 cent) levy for paper cups in the U.K., a world first for the chain. British lawmakers this year suggested a levy on disposable coffee cups or even an outright ban in the next five years if recycling targets can’t be met.
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