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Partnership Allows Two Million Residents to Recycle Paper Cups

Denver Joins Chattanooga, Tenn.; Washington, D.C.; and Louisville, Ky., as FPI community partner.

Approximately two million U.S. residents can now recycle hot and cold paper beverage cups thanks to a partnership with the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI).

By adding paper cups to its list of acceptable items for recycling, the city of Denver became the fourth FPI Community Partner—following Washington, DC; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Louisville, Ky. These four recycling programs have joined the ranks of leading U.S. programs like New York City, Seattle and San Francisco, where paper cups are also accepted for recycling.

“We spent five years researching real and perceived barriers to recycling foodservice packaging before launching our FPI Community Partner program last year,” said Lynn Dyer, president of FPI, in a statement. “Our approach relies on strong end markets partnering with recycling processors and communities educating their residents to ensure these materials are recycled properly.” 

Cities are selected by their location in relation to viable end markets and materials recovery facilities (MRFs) that have the desire and capacity to recycle foodservice packaging items. The opportunities continue to grow, with 16 paper mills in the U.S. and Canada accepting poly-coated paper cups as part of commodity bales such as mixed paper or aseptic cartons.

In Denver, the recycled cups are destined for Sustana’s Fox River Fiber facility. The paper mill produces approximately 450 tons of de-inked recycled pulp per day and receives about 1.3 million pounds of post-consumer paper daily from its suppliers.

“There is valuable fiber in this material that can be used for other products,” said Jay Hunsberger, vice president of sales and marketing at Sustana, in a statement. “This opportunity allows us to expand feedstock for paper cups.”

According to FPI, enthusiastic MRFs are critical to the success of the program. Denver-based Alpine Waste & Recycling processes more than 30,000 tons of recyclables for the city each year. Alpine sought to grow the quantity of carton bales it produces by adding other poly-coated feedstock. Paper cups were a logical choice.

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“Since its origin 20 years ago, Alpine has promoted a sense of innovation and environmental stewardship in the industry. Now, we have a role in which cups can be recycled and turned into other products, with help from companies like Sustana,” said Brent Hildebrand, vice president of recycling at Alpine Waste & Recycling, in a statement.

More than a year after the launch, the original FPI Community Partner cities are evaluating how their programs have changed. All three cities reported increased recycling overall, decreases in residue and stronger relationships with local MRFs and end markets.

New Community Partner Denver views adding paper cups as an opportunity to draw attention to its recycling program, which already accepts plastic containers and cups. The city has a goal of increasing its recycling rate to 34 percent, the national average, as outlined in Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s 2020 Sustainability Goals.

“Denver is entering this new partnership to give our community the opportunity to save valuable resources from ending up in the landfill by simply recycling paper cups at home,” said Eulois Cleckley, executive director of Denver Public Works, in a statement.

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