Holistic Approach Needed to Solve Coffee Cup Recycling Problem

Paul Foot,  a partner and patent attorney at intellectual property firm Withers & Rogers, explores innovation in the context of the proposed ‘latte levy’.
With increasing numbers of food and drink outlets offering takeaway beverages in disposable packaging, it is unlikely that the issue of packaging recycling is going to go away any time soon. The UK alone uses 2.5 billion paper coffee cups every year.
The composition of drinks packaging lies at the root of the problem. Due to the nature of the product they hold – liquid beverages – drinks packaging needs to be sturdy and water resistant. In order to achieve this, packaging manufacturers have adopted a method by which a plastic laminate is co-extruded onto a paper or card sheet. The end result is a waterproof material, which consists of about five per cent plastic.
Plastic is not a biodegradable substance and the issue of recycling coffee cup packaging stems more from the separation of this plastic laminate from the cardboard layer. If these two layers can’t easily be separated in the recycling process, there is a risk of contaminating the paper pulp, causing further issues down the line.
There are recycling facilities around the world that can successfully undertake this kind of process. However, due to the complex and costly plant and machinery required, they are not widely available in the UK.   In fact, there are only four recycling companies globally that have this capability, meaning only six million cups are recycled per year (i.e. only 0.25%).
Stronger incentives are needed
The war on drinks packaging waste is being led by France, where the Government has announced plans to ban all disposable cups and plates by 2020. Whilst a similar approach has not yet been adopted in the UK, calls to find solutions to the coffee cup dilemma have intensified.
In 2016, the Liberal Democrats proposed the introduction of a 5p levy on all disposable coffee cups, but this call was rejected. This debate has been reignited with a report issued in December 2017 by the Environmental Audit Committee. This report suggests that, similar to the plastic bag charge (which has proved to reduce the use of plastic bags by 83%), a coffee cup charge of at least 25p could reduce the use of disposable cups by up to 30%.
If such a levy was introduced, the funds could be allocated to invest in improved recycling infrastructure and reprocessing facilities. While this would have a positive effect, it wouldn’t necessarily provide a long-term solution, and it would take a long time to implement.
Stronger legal measures, such as those applied in France would have greater effect. For example, a move to ban all disposable coffee cups by a certain date would force manufacturers and coffee retailers to invest heavily in R&D activities to find new recycling or manufacturing methods or innovative new cup materials.
Some retailers have already introduced schemes to try and dissuade consumers from using disposable coffee cups. In particular, there has been a push for the adoption of reusable cups but this approach is unlikely to gain widespread appeal and current uptake is only around 1%. The convenience of being able to collect takeaway drinks as and when needed will be hard to overcome, even if discounts are available to those bringing a reusable cup. Such discounts alone are unlikely to change behaviour significantly.
Innovating the way to the future
Fresh approaches are urgently needed to tackle this recycling problem. This is likely to involve sector design specialists and others across the supply chain working together to find a holistic solution to reduce drinks packaging waste.
A number of major players in the coffee cup industry – Benders Paper Cups, Bunzl Catering Supplies, Caffe Nero, Dart Products Europe, Greggs, Huhtamaki International Paper, McDonald’s UK, Nestle, Pret a Manger, Seda Group, Starbucks and Stora Enso – recently signed up to an agreement with the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE UK), with the aim of working towards a long-term solution. However, to date, examples of innovation activity appear few and far between.
Instead, there are some signs of progress from a number of smaller, innovation-led businesses. Set up in 2016 by entrepreneur Martin Myerscough, Frugalpac has developed an alternative cup design. In their design, instead of virgin paper laminated with a thin layer of plastic, the cup has a plastic liner that is lightly glued in place, so that it can be easily separated from its recycled cardboard shell at a standard paper recycling mill. Recycled board can be used in this way as no part of the board needs to be in contact with the drink itself, in which case virgin paper stock would be required for regulatory reasons. Frugalpac has protected this concept with a UK patent – GB2538429 – and is currently in talks with several major coffee retailers to supply their cups.
Another recent innovation is the ‘reCUP’, by Smart Planet Technologies Inc in California, USA. Unlike the coating of standard paper cups, the makers of the reCUP claim that its ‘EarthCoating’ formation can be easily washed out in the recycling process; allowing the paper to be recycled. They also claim that no changes need to be made to the cup manufacturing process and the cost of materials remains the same. In theory at least, this innovation has much potential and could solve many of the problems associated with standard cups.
Opportunities and threats
It is clear there is no quick-fix solution to the problem of coffee cup recycling and there are many factors to consider.  However, for established cup manufacturers and recyclers, there is a danger they will lose the initiative to start-up businesses who are able to see the problems and solutions in a new light, and disrupt the industry. Therefore, they need to aggressively meet this challenge with new solutions, even if it means their existing business could suffer in the short term.  Otherwise, they risk being the Nokia of the paper cup industry.

Smart Planet Technologies commercially launches reCUP in UK

Commercially available paper reCUPs are engineered for recyclability

Commercially available paper reCUPs are engineered for recyclability

Now available for order, the reCUP, manufactured for the UK market by Cup Print, is a double wall paper cup engineered to be processable through standard paper recycling processes and equipment, just as uncoated paperboards are – its paper fibers can be recycled up to seven times.


This is primarily due to a change in the interior coating which makes paper cups fully processable in traditional paper recycling systems.
Smart Planet is a materials engineering company which licenses its patented technologies for use in the market and enables use of more sustainable materials and design in products, while maintaining functionality and performance.
It is estimated that 2.5 billion paper coffee cups wind up in UK landfills annually, as traditional paper cups have a 100% polyethylene plastic liner that is incompatible with standard recycling processes.  Additional processes to remove this liner by the few specialist recyclers may add cost and degrade fiber quality to tissue grade for single use.

 Will Lorenzi, president of Smart Planet Technologies, said the company re-engineered the cup to be fully functional and fully processable with traditional recycling systems by changing the coating formulation, and has passed EU specifications tests.

“With that, the paper cups become valuable materials to recover profitably along with other recovered paperboards, without having to put in extensive infrastructure changes to the recycling industry.
“The new coating formulation is named EarthCoating, and the cup is named the reCUP.  The cups look the same, work the same, are manufactured with the same equipment at full line speeds.  We’ve just changed the coating formulation, and the recyclers receive materials that are fully compatible with traditional paper recycling equipment. The use of EarthCoating can go beyond just paper cups, as it is a drop-in replacement for traditional plastic barrier coatings as a whole, improving the recyclability of other coated paperboard applications, such as takeaway trays, and frozen food packaging. EarthCoating lets coated paperboard products be recoverable as a paper product, rather than undesirable as a mixed material.”

Smart Planet Technologies Awarded the Green Arrow Award from the California Product Stewardship Council

Green-Arrow-Award-ImageSmart Planet Technologies is the winner of the Green Arrow Award for System and Design Innovations, as judged by the California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC). The Green Arrow Award is given to an organization demonstrating an innovative system approach that removes or reduces toxic or other problematic attributes present in other similar products, thereby improving diversion rates from landfills.
(Sacramento, CA) – Four companies with ties to California will be honored by the California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) for their innovative environmental efforts during the organization’s 8th Annual Arrow Awards ceremony. Labcon, Smart Planet Technologies, Planet Recycling, Inc. and Walgreens will receive statewide recognition respectively for overall excellence in product stewardship, system and design innovations, coalition building and product-take-back.
“We are delighted to honor companies that both in big and small ways are helping to change the way we deal with our trash,” said Heidi Sanborn, CPSC Executive Director. “Whether it be getting addictive drugs, old carpet, reducing packaging, or greening product design these companies are leaders. We are excited to be working with them.”
Labcon is the recipient of the 2017 Golden Arrow Award for Overall Excellence in Product Stewardship. A company that produces labware consumables with 100% recyclable packaging and uses vegetable based soy inks exclusively. Labcon is committed to reducing their water and energy use, waste production and greenhouse gas emissions, with some of their manufacturing processes even sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere.
Smart Planet Technologies will receive the 2017 Green Arrow Award for System and Design Innovations. Smart Planet is an intellectual property and materials engineering company that developed reCUP, the first commercially available paper cup that’s engineered for recycling. reCUP use 51% less plastic than traditional poly-coated paper cups and can be processed through existing paper recycling equipment as if there is no coating applied at all through the use of their EarthCoating technology, a highly mineralized resin alternative to 100% plastic coatings for paper based packaging.
Planet Recycling, Inc. is the winner of the 2017 Bow & Arrow Award for Coalition Building for building partnerships and demonstrating the inter-dependence amongst stakeholders. Planet Recycling is a carpet and pad recycling company that services all of San Diego County. In the recycling business for over 50 years, Planet Recycling collaborates with producers, distributors, retailers, public agencies and other stakeholders to improve the solutions for the carpet recycling industry.
Walgreens will be presented with the 2017 Infinity Arrow Award for Service and Take-Back. Walgreens’ Safe Medication Disposal Program provides safe medication disposal kiosks at over 600 24-hour locations in 45 states and the District of Columbia – 55 of which are located in California. Since program inception in February 2016, the Walgreens’ kiosks have collected over 72 tons of medications at no cost to the public. Walgreens’ program is the first ongoing national effort by a retailer.
The California Product Stewardship Council’s Annual Arrow Awards ceremony will take place during the California Resource Recovery Association’s 41st annual conference and tradeshow, held at the Paradise Point Resort in San Diego on Tuesday, August 22nd at 5:45 PM.
About California Product Stewardship Council
California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) educates both the public and private sectors about Product Stewardship and closely partners with business, jurisdictions, waste and recycling companies, manufacturers and others to promote and encourage sustainable practices and to recognize those companies who are taking a leadership role in participating in waste reduction and recycling. For more information, please go to:

Replenysh to support closed-loop collections of reCUP™ recyclable paper cups for Orange and Los Angeles Counties in California

Recycling specialist’s platform enables simple and rewarding closed-loop collection of breakthrough paper cups engineered for recycling
replenysh-logoNewport Beach, CA, July 28th, 2017– Replenysh announces that it will be adding reCUP to the materials in its closed-loop collection ecosystem. Coffeehouses and other retail locations in Orange and Los Angeles counties that use reCUP paper cups may schedule a pickup with Replenysh to have them brought directly to a recycling facility to get responsibly recycled.
Traditionally, paper cups have been coated on the interior with polyethylene or other plastics, to form the cup and hold liquid contents. However, this has made paper cups difficult to recycle in standard paper recycling processes. It is estimated that over 15 billion paper coffee cups wind up in U.S. landfills annually.
The reCUP is a paper coffee cup engineered for recyclability, with a coating that allows the cup to be repulped efficiently in traditional paper recycling systems. This makes the reCUP valuable to the recycling industry – a breakthrough that can ultimately solve the global problem of paper cups in landfills.
While traditional curbside recyclers have yet to put the processes in place to distinguish the reCUP from other paper cups, the reCUP can be collected separately through the Replenysh platform of haulers and recyclers to ensure that it is recycled into new paperboard packaging.
To learn more about Replenysh and opportunities to build the future of recycling as a retailer, driver or ambassador, please visit
To purchase the reCUP, the first commercially-available paper cup engineered for recycling, and show your beverage customers that you care about the environment, visit
The reCUP is designed by Smart Planet Technologies of Newport Beach, California.

Smart Planet releases EU specification for reCUP recyclable paper cup

Smart Planet Technologies, the developer of the reCUP recyclable paper cup, has released the reCUP European Union (EU) specification. Therefore, sales and production can begin throughout the EU area providing the marketplace with a paper cup engineered for recyclability in the general recycling stream using existing recycling infrastructure.
A study in 2016 estimated that only 1 in 400 cups were recycled out of the 2.5 billion used annually in the UK. The paper cups were rarely being recycled due to the difficulty for paper recyclers in processing the interior polyethylene liner. The reCUP has an interior coating engineered to be fully processable in traditional paper recycling systems, making paper cups a valuable material to collect and recycle.
The reCUP is commercially-available in the US, however, additional migration compliance standards are required in the EU. The UK cup specification has two approaches to resolve the issue:
• The first approach is a co-extrusion of a combined layer with the surface on the inside of the cup to have minimal calcium carbonate, at a level acceptable for the migration test, while having sufficient calcium carbonate within the rest of the coating to maintain recyclability.
• The second approach uses an outer surface coating provided by Henkel Corporation. Henkel’s coating reduces the surface exposure of calcium carbonate, to an acceptable level, while also maintaining cup recyclability.
The reCUP will be used in the UK marketplace in an upcoming pilot with collection scheme organized by Simply Cups and recycled paper mill Lenzing Papier. The cups will be collected and recycled into new paper properly completing the entire cycle.
Shortly thereafter, the reCUP will be commercially available in the UK, manufactured by CupPrint at
For inquiries in the use of paperboards with EarthCoating, please contact Smart Planet through or
About Smart Planet Technologies, Inc.
Smart Planet Technologies is a materials engineering company focused on advancements in sustainability for the packaging industry. Through innovation, our technologies are focused to conserve precious natural resources and provide high quality, environmental alternatives to a wide variety of rigid, flexible, barrier liners, and other packaging applications.

Detpak announces license agreement with Smart Planet Technologies to offer recyclable paper cup


New paper cup technology will provide Australian and New Zealand markets with paper cup engineered to be recyclable in standard paper recycling systems

Brompton, SA, Australia – June 23, 2017 – Detpak, a brand and division of the Detmold Group, a leading manufacturer of paper cups, has licensed the EarthCoating paper cup coating technology, and will introduce cups under the “RecycleMe” brand in the Australian and New Zealand markets to further address the issue of the lack of paper cup recycling.
Detpak plans to announce a General Availability date of the RecycleMe paper cup shortly. The RecycleMe cup will be available for order at
Traditionally, paper cups are coated with polyethylene and other polymers to seal the cup and hold the liquid contents. However, these plastic coatings are incompatible with traditional paper recycling systems, and therefore recyclers typically sort paper cups from waste and recycling collection, and divert the cups to landfill. As reported on the ABC Television’s War on Waste show, over one billion cups are diverted to landfill in Australia, annually.
The RecycleMe cup is engineered to be fully processable by standard recycling systems, allowing for the paper materials to be recovered efficiently and economically to be reused in premium recycled paper packaging. Therefore, the RecycleMe cup provides a technology with the potential to address the recycling of all paper cups into new recycled paperboards, which can be considered the optimal solution.
About Detpak
Detpak, a division of the Detmold Group, is a leading packaging manufacturer in Australasia and globally as we offer an extensive range of paper and board packaging solutions including cups, lids, cartons, bags, napkins, trays and clams. Our world class design and printing services have earned us a reputation as a provider of high quality, custom printed packaging solutions. Detpak has brought many leading product innovations to the market, including Ripple-Wrap™, the insulated hot cup which continues to set the benchmark within the coffee-to-go market, food pails with wire handles, and cartons and bags with windows designed to optimise the presentation of food.
About Smart Planet Technologies
Smart Planet Technologies is a materials R&D company focused on sustainability for the packaging industry. Through innovation, our technologies are focused to conserve precious natural resources and provide high quality, environmental alternatives to a wide variety of rigid, flexible and corrugated packaging applications.