Although it’s commonly thought that it’s too difficult or expensive to remove the plastic lining to recycle old coffee cups or that coffee contamination is too problematic, Starbucks has proven it could be done.
This year, Starbucks sent 25 million old paper coffee cups to a paper mill in Wisconsin, where they were processed into recycled fiber and sent to another company to be made into paperboard for new cups. This was a pilot project Starbucks conducted to prove that old, used coffee cups could indeed be recycled into new cups.
According to a Fast Company report, there is a misconception that it is more expensive to recycle cups that other paper. But coffee cups could actually yield a higher-quality fiber.
Fast Company has more details:
Earlier this year, Starbucks sent 18 truckloads of old paper cups to a paper mill in Wisconsin to prove a point: Contrary to a widespread myth, paper coffee cups can be recycled cost-effectively. The cups–25 million in total, from excess inventory that the coffee chain otherwise would have sent to landfill–were processed at the mill. Then the recycled fiber was sent to another partner to be incorporated into paperboard for new Starbucks cups.
The pilot project was a way to “demonstrate that a coffee cup can be turned back into a coffee cup,” says Jay Hunsberger, VP of sales for North America from Sustana, the mill that recycled the old cups. At the mill, the cups were mixed with water and ground into a pulp with a seven-foot-tall corkscrew to begin to separate the plastic lining that helps keep coffee cups from getting soggy. The fibers were screened and washed to finish the separation, then made into sheets and sent to WestRock, a packaging company, to be made into paperboard. At a third company, Seda, the board was printed with the Starbucks logo and shaped into new cups.