The Coffee Cup Recycling Journey

Published: 2024-01-05     Author: Ken Edwards

Every morning, many people start their day with a cup of coffee, often in disposable cups. Using a reusable cup is the most sustainable option, and the good news is that reusables are an option once again at LHSC Tim Hortons locations!

But have you ever wondered what happens to those disposable coffee cups after you're done sipping? Here at LHSC, we divert several tons of coffee cups every year. The journey of recycling coffee cups is an important and fascinating one that contributes to reducing our environmental footprint. In this article, we'll dive into how coffee cups are recycled and the valuable materials and products that result from this process.

The Coffee Cup Recycling Process

Collection: The recycling journey begins with the proper collection of coffee cups. These cups are typically made of a combination of materials, including paper, plastic, and sometimes a thin layer of wax for insulation. This mixture of materials presents a unique challenge for recycling, but recent advancements in recycling technology means it’s now possible to recycle these disposable cups!

Separation: Once collected, coffee cups undergo a separation process. Specialized equipment shreds the cups into small pieces, breaking down the components for further processing. The goal is to isolate the paper and plastic elements, which are the primary materials of interest when recycling.

De-inking and Pulping: The paper portion of the coffee cups is separated and processed to remove any ink or contaminants. This process involves de-inking and pulping, where the paper is mixed with water and chemicals to break it down into a pulp. This pulp is then used to create recycled paper products.

Recycled Materials and Products

Recycled Paper: The processed pulp is used to create recycled paper products such as paper towels, tissue paper, cardboard, and more. By utilizing the paper component of coffee cups, the demand for virgin paper is reduced, conserving trees and energy.

Plastic Recycling: The plastic component of coffee cups, which is often polyethylene, can be recycled and repurposed as well. It can be used to create items such as plastic lumber, park benches, and even new plastic products. This reduces the need for new plastic production and helps divert plastic waste from landfills and waterways, including oceans.

Energy Recovery: In cases where certain materials cannot be effectively recycled, they can be used for energy recovery through waste-to-energy processes. This involves burning non-recyclables in a controlled environment to generate electricity.

What You Can Do

The first “R” is to “Re-use,” so if possible, use a re-usable coffee cup! If you choose to use a disposable cup, you can recycle it in LHSC’s Single Stream Recycling program. Recycling coffee cups might seem difficult due to their composition, but advancements in recycling technologies have made it possible to divert these cups from landfills and turn them into valuable materials and products. 

By participating in the coffee cup recycling journey, we can all contribute to reducing waste, conserving resources, and supporting a circular economy. The next time you enjoy your morning brew, remember to look for the Blue Bin with that empty cup!

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