A New Tar­get in the Fight Against Plas­tic: Pa­per Cups

L'Opinion - - The Wall Street Journal & L'Opinion -

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. A new re­port pu­bli­shed Mon­day is by Eu­ro­pean trade bo­dy, the Pa­per Cup Re­co­ve­ry & Re­cy­cling Group, says just one in 25 pa­per cups is re­cy­cled in the U.K.

On Wed­nes­day, the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment ap­pro­ved a ban on single-use plas­tics such as straws, cut­le­ry and cot­ton swabs. It said Eu­ro­pean Union coun­tries would have to re­duce the use of plas­tic cups by set­ting re­duc­tion tar­gets or le­vying charges.

Awa­re­ness has ri­sen in the U.S. too, with a wave of bans tar­ge­ting plas­tic straws, and Chi­na’s recent ban on im­por­ted waste is dra­wing fur­ther at­ten­tion to the is­sue. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. star­ting Mon­day is rol­ling out a ban on pa­per cups at its U.S. of­fices, af­ter pre­vious­ly scrap­ping such cups in Eu­rope, the Middle East and Asia. In a me­mo to staff this month, the firm as­ked its Ame­ri­cas em­ployees to bring their own mugs to work saying the re­gion consumes more than eight mil­lion non­re­cy­clable cups each year.

An Aus­tra­lian Se­nate re­port in June re­com­men­ded that single-use plas­tics be scrap­ped by 2023. Tai­wan has said it would ban cups among other single-use plas­tic items by 2030.

The scru­ti­ny comes as cof­fee grows in po­pu­la­ri­ty. The num­ber of cof­fee shops in the U.S. jum­ped 16 % bet­ween 2012 and 2017, ac­cor­ding to re­search firm Min­tel. In the U.K., they rose 28 %, re­sul­ting in bil­lions of ta­kea­way cups. Concern about the im­pact of plas­tic waste on ocean life was spar­ked in the U.K. by the BBC’s “Blue Pla­net II” do­cu­men­ta­ry last year, which spur­red a wave of me­dia co­ve­rage. Foo­tage, in­clu­ding of a dead al­ba­tross chick whose sto­mach had been pier­ced by a plas­tic too­th­pick, hor­ri­fied vie­wers and pro­pel­led law­ma­kers and com­pa­nies to com­mit to re­du­cing sin­gleuse plas­tic.

“Blue Pla­net crea­ted big concerns about plas­tic pa­cka­ging,” said Ka­the­rine Rolfe, sus­tai­na­bi­li­ty stra­te­gy ma­na­ger for Lon­don’s Hea­throw Air­port, which is stri­ving for all 13.5 mil­lion dis­po­sable cof­fee cups used on-site each year to be re­cy­cled. “That’s when we star­ted to look ve­ry spe­ci­fi­cal­ly at which bits of pa­cka­ging being pro­du­ced at the air­port were big ones we should fo­cus on.”

Star­bucks is in­ter­nal­ly tes­ting a pa­per cup contai­ning a bio­li­ner ra­ther than a plas­tic one. The com­pa­ny has in­ves­ted in U.K. star­tup Fru­gal­pac whose cup – with an ea­sy-to-se­pa­rate wa­ter­proof film – can be pro­ces­sed by re­gu­lar re­cy­cling


A Star­bucks and a Dun­kin’ Do­nuts in the Chel­sea neigh­bo­rhood of New York.

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