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Environmental impact of paper cup
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Recycling

Most paper cups are designed for a single use and then disposal. Very little recycled paper is used to make paper cups because of contamination concerns and regulations. Since most paper cups are coated with plastic (polyethylene), then both composting and recycling of paper cups is uncommon because of the difficulty in separating the polyethylene in the recycling process of said cups. As of 2016, there are only two facilities in the UK able to properly recycle PE-coated cups; in the absence of such facilities, the cups are taken to landfill or incinerated.

A UK-based business group James Cropper have developed the world’s first facility for the effective recycling of the estimated 2.5 billion paper coffee cups used and disposed of by British businesses each year, and have become one of 14 international companies to formally join the Paper Recovery and Recycling Group (PCRRG).

James Cropper's Reclaimed Fibre Facility was opened by HM The Queen in July 2013, and recovers both the plastic and paper from the cups; ensuring nothing is wasted from the recycling process.Although paper cups are made from renewable resources (wood chips 95% by weight), paper products in a landfill might not decompose, or can release methane, if decomposed anaerobically.

A Newport Beach, CA company, Smart Planet Technologies has developed a process for modifying the polyethylene coating on paper cups and folding cartons so they are engineered for recyclability. Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, CA has begun a program to use cups made with this technology to capture and sell the fibers to fund scholarships for their students.

In 2017, the Finnish board manufacturer Kotkamills launched a new kind of cup (food service) board which uses no wax or plastic for waterproofing, and thus can be recycled as part of the normal paper and board waste stream, biodegraded, or even composted in small quantities.

The manufacture of paper usually requires inorganic chemicals and creates water effluents. Paper cups may consume more non-renewable resources than cups made of polystyrene foam (whose only significant effluent is pentane).

Paper vs plastic
A life cycle inventory of a comparison of paper vs plastic cups shows environmental effects of both with no clear winner.

Polyethylene (PE) is a petroleum-based coating on paper cups that can slow down the process of biodegrading of the paper it coats.

Polylactic acid (PLA) is a biodegradable bio-plastic coating used on some paper cups. PLA is a renewable resource and is certified compostable, which means that when it biodegrades, it does not leave behind any toxic residues. Although PLA-lined cups are the only paper cups which can be composted fully, they can contaminate the waste stream, reportedly making other recycled plastics unsaleable.

All paper cups can only be recycled at a specialised treatment facility regardless of the lining.

A number of cities – including Portland, Oregon — have banned XPS foam cups in take-out and fast food restaurants.

Emissions
A study of one paper coffee cup with sleeve (16 ounce) shows that the CO2 emissions is about 0.11 kilograms (0.24 lb) per cup with sleeve – including paper from trees, materials, production and shipping.

Habitat-loss trees used
The habitat loss from one 16 ounce paper coffee cup with a sleeve is estimated to be 0.09 square meters (0.93 square feet).[dubious – discuss] Over 6.5 million trees were cut down to make 16 billion paper coffee cups used by U.S. in 2006, using 4 billion US gallons (15,000,000 m3) of water and resulting in 253 million pounds (115,000,000 kg) of waste. Overall, US Americans use 58% of all paper cups worldwide, amounting to 130 billion cups.

 

 

 

 

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