Recycling scheme Simply Cups has launched a durable polymer that has been produced using both the paper and plastic content of paper cups.
The product comes after recent national publicity highlighting the tiny proportion of the 2.5 billion cups used in the UK each year that are recycled.
Media reports indicated that cup providers such as cafés were under the misapprehension that such cups would be recycled when placed into a commingled recycling stream.
Only two facilities have the technology to separate the cups’ paper from the plastic resin coating on a commercial basis, and six million are recycled a year.
Simply Cups is now piloting technology developed by consultancy Nextek that does not require the materials to be separated and which can also incorporate lids and spoons.
The company said trials had shown the new composite was stronger than conventional plastics and can be moulded into products at high speeds.
Outlets from where cups are collected could buy back the recycled products, such as trays and building materials, designed by manufacturer AShortWalk.
Nextek managing director Edward Kosior told MRW it had received an “excellent response” to the technology during trial marketing.
“We do not have to separate the plastic from the paper and that’s a big advantage. A lot of the other techniques are trying to do that, and they struggle because both streams are cross-contaminated even after separation,” he said.
“We are basically trying to do the opposite to make a composite which is basically a wood replacement.”
Kosior said the plans were to scale up the processing using hired facilities in London before going full scale, potentially by mid-2017.
Dr Jonathan Mitchell of Nextek conducted research at Imperial College over four years to develop the technology.
A Simply Cups spokesperson told MRW the new process of creating a composite was a lot easier than separating the plastic from the paper and it could be developed into a broader range of products.
But the firm will continue to separate the materials to make some recycled paper products because they still have a value.
He said the mainstream media outrage at the amount of cups not being recycled could be a positive thing because it will increase pressure on businesses such as coffee shops to do more.
Dan Dicker and Peter Goodwin
At the company’s annual meeting, Simply Cups director Peter Goodwin (right) said: “This will be a game-changer for us as it will create the required pull for recycled products from the marketplace that will fund further the expansion of the scheme.”
AShortWalk managing director Dan Dicker (left) said: “A solution like this that opens up wider product possibilities will create a far bigger demand for the recycled cups and close an economic as well as a recycling loop.”
Simply Cups is extending the range of materials to be collected and recycled, including polypropylene, high-impact polystyrene and PET cups.
Cup manufacturers Coveris, Nupik Flo and RPC Tedeco-Gizeh have now joined the scheme.
Simply Cups’ annual meeting at the Museum of London was attended by more than 100 representatives from hospitality and food service companies, manufacturers, suppliers and brands.