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What happens to coffee cups in landfill

Did you know that most takeaway coffee cups cannot be recycled and are not biodegradable?

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Over a billion disposable cups are thrown away each year in Australia.
Although they are made of paper and plastic the standard takeaway coffee cup you get from a café cannot be recycled. This is because they are lined with waterproof plastic called polyethylene, not only making them non-recyclable but also a contaminant. If these cups are thrown into a recycling bin, they need to be hand sorted out and put into general waste which can mean an entire load of recycling ending up in landfill due to the crazy logistics of removing the contaminated item.
In landfills, these cups create massive amounts of methane that contribute to global warming. It's estimated that as many as three billion coffee cups are sold each year in Australia, with these cups being wrongly tossed into the recycling or winding up in landfills we are causing our methane level to skyrocket.


Some cups are made from wax-coated paper, like milk cartons, this makes them recyclable but the little recycle symbol on them is often missed. Plus, some people tend to avoid recycling their general waste at all and sometimes there’s not a public recycling bin around when it’s time to toss the cup.
The rules for recycling coffee cups varies depending on which state you live in. In the ACT all cups are allowed to be recycled, according to the ACT Government’s website, this is because they have the facilities and funds necessary to sort the items and properly recycle them without contamination. The ACT Government also encourages people to use keep cups, when it’s safe to do so, and directs people to the Responsible Cafes website and the Green Caffeine website.


The Responsible Cafes website is an organization that provides educational resources about sustainable options for café production, such as coffee cups, as well as a map that shows you which cafes in your area use biodegradable cups. The website encourages cafés to use bio-cups, a biodegradable option for takeaway cups and they provide marketing resources like posters and flyers that show the café is using a responsible alternative. You can even submit your favorite local café to get them to join the initiative!


The Green Caffeine website is a free reusable coffee cup system for eco-focused cafes and coffee lovers across Australia. The app and website allows users to create an account to swap reusable coffee cups at different cafes. This gives customers endless access to reusable coffee cups even if they forget their own. It means you can purchase a coffee in the reusable cup and then return that cup to a participating café when you’re done. The cups are cleaned and sanitized so you can grab a fresh cup each time.


There are also companies that are producing biodegradable cups or offering special bins that help you properly dispose of your coffee cup. To find these cups check for the “bio cup” or compost or recycle icon on your coffee cup.


The Recycle me program by Detpack is a coffee cup collection and recycling service which allows for the cups to be dumped in the provided bins which will be emptied and collected to be recycled by Detpack. Simply cups and 7-11 has a similar initiative that allows people to recycle their coffee cups in the special bins that are emptied for sustainable collections. You may have seen these bins around; they ask the user to pour out the liquids and put the lid and cup into two different holes. Sometimes they are even shaped like coffee cups!

Using resources like the Green Caffeine or Responsible Cafes means you can have your coffee and drink it too, without contributing to endless landfills and damaging the earth. If you must use a paper cup, try cafes that use biodegradable options. You can also keep your rubbish until you locate a coffee cup bin and take your rubbish there, these are often located in shopping centers and 7-11s.

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