Are Takeaway Coffee Cups Recyclable?

The big question right now in the world of cappuccinos, lattes and other coffee lovers is:


Are takeaway coffee cups, including BioCups, recyclable?

Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where the answer to that was a resounding ‘yes of course absolutely!’ In actual fact, the answer is more complicated and boils down to:

  • Well yes they are officially recyclable, and they jolly well should be recycled EVERYWHERE and in many places they are.
  • BUT it depends on individual waste contractors whether they are actually recycled or not.
  • So (as usual in this age of personal responsibility) – do your research, act accordingly, AND
  • WHENEVER POSSIBLE take your own reusable cup.

The television series War on Waste has been wonderful. However, when you see the bit about takeaway coffee cups including BioCups not being recycled in Australia, please look deeper into the subject.

So… why is there an issue? Takeaway cups are paper, aren’t they?

Well, the issue is that takeaway coffee cups of all varieties, including BioCups, are made of over 95% paper, with a very thin coating of plastic so that they can hold liquids. (The plastic in BioCups is a plant-based bioplastic.) This means that SOME contractors who deal with waste consider them a contaminating item in a recycle bin. However, this combination of paper and plastic is almost identical to milk and juice cartons which are regularly accepted for recycling. 

Planet Ark says in their blog What’s the Deal with Coffee Cup Recycling? that the issue with recycling takeaway cups is how the cardboard and plastic behave in the recycling process – particularly during pulping. The cardboard fibres need to be able to disengage from the plastic component.

They give the tip that ‘the simple act of flattening paper cups means they will move through the sorting station in the best way.’ 

But do contractors who say they recycle coffee cups actually recycle them?

Many coffee cups including BioCups are recycled. Nillumbik Shire, where Going Green Solutions is based, is just one of the many Shires  in Australia that accept takeaway coffee cups and lids in their recycling bins.

We have double checked with our Shire Waste Management Team and they have confirmed that takeaway cups ARE being collected and ARE being recycled. This applies to all recycle bins supplied and emptied by Nillumbik Council, which includes all residential bins and some organisations. (Note: as of 2.08.17 some of this information is again under debate. We will update the Blog with the most transparent information available, as we obtain it.)

HOWEVER (you will notice that there are a lot of ‘howevers’ in this unexpectedly complex discussion) remember that businesses within Shires are not allowed to use Council Waste Bins. They are required to organise their own waste management and depending on who their contractor is, takeaway cups may not be recycled.

So if your work place or Shire say ‘no takeaway coffee cups’ in the recycling bin then abide by the rules for the time being, but approach them with facts such as the APCO statement until this decision is changed. In fact, DELUGE them with the facts. We HAVE to improve our recycling rates in Australia, in the interests of a healthy world. (It’s been said that Sweden has such impressive recycling systems that the country has ‘run out of rubbish. ‘ Who else thinks Australia should have that kind of problem?)

Are BioCups any different?

BioCups are A LOT different in the big picture. For starters, the plastic coating is made from renewable plant-based resources. The cups are made from paper that is sustainably sourced and the company Biopak ensures that the entire process of creating the cups, from sourcing raw materials through production, distribution and disposal, is 100% carbon offset.

Also, they are easier to recycle than your average takeaway paper cup, because the bioplastic lining dissolves during the re-pulping process. BioCups are also certified compostable and are being composted in many commercial compost facilities across Australia. And IF a takeaway BioCup gets all the way to landfill, it still has a carbon neutral footprint.

Take a look at some of our BioCup options available in wholesale quantities as well as smaller packs for a party or event. 

What does Going Green Solutions advise?

At Going Green Solutions, we have made it our business to find out the real story behind products like takeaway coffee cups and (you guessed it) to make the best green solutions available to ordinary people and businesses.

Our approach to takeaway cups is: 

  • It is ALWAYS best to take your own reusable cup;
  • If you are a business owner and MUST offer disposable cups make them BioCups 
  • If you do offer or use paper takeaway cups, check on the actual regulations in your area. Many Shires and Municipalities in Australia do in fact recycle takeaway cups. 
  • Plastic coffee cup lids are widely accepted in plastic or co-mingled recycling bins so toss them in. At least some things are simple!

There are many great options in reusable coffee mugs, including: Cheeki stainless steel mugsJoco glass mugs and biodegradable eCoffee cups made from bamboo. They are stylish, fun – and some cafes offer a discount if your bring your own takeaway mug. No matter how recyclable a paper cup may be, you are taking THE BEST care of your environment with a reusable cup. 

In the words of Sean Flynn of Going Green Solutions ‘The War on Waste has been a great show. But incorrect information could send tons of recyclable waste to land fill.’ So even when you watch really excellent documentaries, be sure to double check the facts in your own area. Takeaway coffee cups, and especially BioCups, are officially recyclable, are indeed recycled in many Shires and Municipalities and should be recycled everywhere, in the interests of a healthier happier greener Australia. And it is ALWAYS best to take your own reusable coffee cup.

3rd July 2017 by Lucinda Flynn & Elisabeth Bromley