Coffee cup confusion
Madison Reidy looks at the implications of our takeaway habit.
EXITING an Auckland cafe with a takeaway coffee in hand, Anna Palmer planned to send the cup to recycling later.
She was surprised to hear the cup and its lid were in fact compostable and would be best disposed of with food scraps.
‘‘There is confusion, especially with the stuff about plastic coating,’’ she said.
Standard takeaway cups are made from paper and lined with plastic, and coffee customers such as Palmer often do not know how to dispose of them correctly. And few composting sites accept them, given the difficulties of separating the materials and identifying which ones are suitable.
Zero Waste Network executive officer Dorte Wray said it was ‘‘super hard for consumers to do the right thing. It is a misunderstanding at all levels’’.
When compostable cups were sent to landfill they created methane, a greenhouse gas, when they broke down, she said.
However, help is on the way. The Packaging Forum, an initiative promoting recycling, is working on a certified logo to show coffee drinkers how to correctly dispose of their cups, and tell composting sites how long the cups take to decompose. It hoped to achieve this by June.
The forum estimates that 295 million plastic cups hit landfills here every year – compostable coffee cups included.
Innocent Packaging managing director Tony Small said the problem was ‘‘pretty daunting’’.
Coffee drinkers typically put their used compostable cups in rubbish bins, so they went to landfill, defeating their purpose.
Compost bins for compostable coffee cups and food scraps should be commonplace in city centres, he said. ‘‘We should have had that 20 years ago.’’
New Zealand’s legislation on waste had also never been used to its fullest extent, she said.
Increasing the waste levy, the $10 per tonne charge to dump rubbish at landfills, would increase the Government’s Waste Minimisation Fund to pay for local composting and recycling projects.
Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said she would spend several months this year looking at how the Waste Minimisation Act was being applied and applauded the increasing number of cafes discounting coffee served in reusable takeaway cups, known as keep cups.
One such environmentally conscious outlet is the Red Art Gallery and Cafe in central Nelson, which offers a 50c discount.
Red barista Ana Galloway said she convinced between 10 and 15 per cent of customers to invest in a keep cup by telling them that if they bought a coffee every weekday they would be saving $150 a year.
The Blackbird Eatery near Nelson’s airport offers a 20 cent discount for punters who use their own cups.
Blackbird sells glass and plastic reusable cups in various sizes, and customers who buy one get their first coffee free.
However, Cafe owner Trathen said many customers there, too, still used takeaway cups despite drinking their coffee on the premises.
‘‘A lot of our clients like takeaway cups but they still have them here. They like them because they keep them hotter longer. They’re also a smidge bigger than a have-here cup, you get a couple more mils, which some people count.’’
Some just ‘‘like holding a takeaway cup’’.
Anna Palmer is among many consumers confused by cup recycling.