A lot is going on…
Every day I have conversations with my customers and suppliers about sustainability and I have decided, based on our current knowledge, to tell an open and honest story of the developments we see in the market by writing a number of posts. My idea is to start a discussion based on facts about the challenges in the market.
In the past months, there have been many developments in takeaway packaging, especially for packaging that contains plastic, like for instance paper coffee cups. Thanks to our worldwide network, we are being informed by both suppliers and customers about the latest developments in raw materials, production, sustainability and, among other things, plastic-free materials.
This also gives us a lot of information about the differences per country. Even between the Netherlands and Belgium, there are already many differences in legislation and national strategy for sustainability and the reduction of plastic waste. In Belgium, 100% plastic disposable cups will be banned from January 2023 onwards, but paper coffee cups are the new standard. In the Netherlands, from July 2023 onwards, a surcharge must be paid for paper cups for consumption on the road and for takeaway. Although the government gives guidelines, 1 cent is already enough and it is up to the business owner to determine what the amount will be that he or she charges. An unclear rule that leaves room for interpretation and will be difficult to implement and enforce in practice.
Paper coffee cups simply need a barrier
Cardboard is a porous material, which is why paper cups need a barrier to make the cup leak free. This barrier is often a microscopic layer of PE or PLA. An average 150 ml (6 oz) coffee cup contains approximately 0.3 grams of plastic. The total amount of polymer (plastic) in a cup is less than 3-7%. This makes paper cups a good alternative to plastic cups and the cups are in theory recyclable.
Recycling paper coffee cups
Many discussions are about whether the paper coffee cups can be recycled properly. The coating of, for example, PE or PLA is applied to the cardboard and due to the porous structure, it adheres deeply and a lot of chemicals and time is needed during the recycling process to seperate the plastic layer from the paper. It is doable, however the process is time consuming and nearly as expensive as the price that is paid for the recycled material that this process yields. So it is not economically interesting (in the Netherlands).
Another disadvantage is that the weight of the micro and nano plastics is lower than water, thus they will float upwards together with the paper in the pulverizer of the recycling facility. If the paper pulp is skimmed off, there is still some plastic particles in it. These cannot be completely filtered out. When looking for solutions, we found a partner in Smartplanettech who has an interesting few on this process. More in my next blog.