UK Missing Out On Opportunities For Paper Cup Recyclability, Says FPA
In the UK, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘War on Paper Cups’ campaign, swiftly followed by Defra Minister Rory Stewart’s announcement that coffee cups ’seem to be a very good thing to look at next’, has brought paper cup recyclability sharply into focus.
The Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) has welcomed the raising of the issue of recycling coffee cups as while great strides have been made to make paper cups recyclable, it says that a lack of consistent infrastructure means the volume being recycled falls a long way short of what should be possible, and UK businesses could be missing out on 60,000 tonnes of quality recycled paper and cardboard annually.
The FPA works closely with the Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group consisting of paper cup manufacturers, beverage brands, recyclers and NGO’s to encourage more recycling of paper and cardboard.
The organisation says it hopes that current debate will act as a catalyst to achieve swift progress and new recycling schemes that are easy to implement across the supply chain.
However, it challenges a number of assertions made this week - that disposable paper cups are not recycled, that retailers are misleading the public, that retailers are acting arrogantly, and that a tax on paper cups, ‘like the bag tax’ is the answer.
On the topic of disposable paper cups, the FPA says that cups can and are being recycled. The organisation has actively encouraged collaboration across the supply chain - the recent FPA Environment Seminar brought together waste management organisations, national and local government, recyclers, food service retailers and caterers and packaging manufacturers and distributors.
However, recycled volumes are still very low, because recycling paper cups is complex. To recycle the paper, the PE coating must be removed, which is not as complex as recent media has suggested, it says. The PE can also be recycled.
Separate waste stream collection of paper cups does produce high-quality recycled paper and board, however, paper cups can also be recycled and recovered through mainstream waste channels producing acceptable quality and marketable recyclate, saving the use of virgin material. Overall, there is the potential to produce up to 60,000 tonnes a year in the UK market, believes the FPA.
Regarding retailers not misleading the public, the FPA believes that retailers are fully aware of the implications of discarded disposable coffee cups, and have actively worked on improving recycling rates on their premises, and are collaborating through the FPA to find ways to increase recycling rates once consumers have left the retailer.
The organisation meets with retailers and caterers to agree strategies to increase the volume of foodservice packaging that is recycled and to support their investment in recycling projects.
It says that retailers have provided consumers with accurate information about the composition of packaging materials in accordance with the law. According to the organisation, "The FPA does not believe the public has intentionally been mislead, nor that the waste management industry has deliberately mislead with regard to the difficulties involved."
On the matter of retailers not acting arrogantly, it says the retailers have already contributed significant funds into research particularly with the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group (PCRRG).
"It is important to understand that paper cups represents a tiny fraction of the UK waste stream and retailers have made huge advances in reducing food and packaging waste and increasing recycling rates across the board," said the FPA in a statement.
The FPA has been pushing for the paper cups issue to gain more attention for a number of years, and has worked to convince Government and agencies that paper cups offer up great potential and paper cup recycling deserves greater focus and resource.
It welcomes the attention that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign is giving to this issue as it actively seeks discussions with organisations such as WRAP, to kick start initiatives on the back of this campaign.
More education is needed amongst consumers to recognise that disposable paper cups are a valuable post-consumer resource and must be handled accordingly. The FPA also urges waste management organisations to look more closely at the potential offered by paper cups.
A number of the FPA’s cup manufacturers have invested large sums into the PCRRG. The group also includes foodservice retailers, beverage brands and NGO’s and the PCRRG has been discussing a way forward with the UK waste management industry.
A tax on paper cups - like the bag tax - is not the answer. The issue of paper cups is not similar to the ‘bag tax’ for the following reasons: taxing disposable paper cups will not increase recycling rates, taxing disposable paper cups will not affect the behaviour of those who litter, and the FPA believes changing consumer behaviour through education will achieve this, and tax will not prevent millions of used paper cups from being discarded.
"Evidence shows paper cups can be recycled at a fraction of a charge, and that establishing a system for collecting cups and recycling them, is far more important than attempting to deter consumers from enjoying coffee in the way they do."
It is also generally agreed that a charge on cups will not change the behaviour of those who litter.
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