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'Compostable cup for your coffee sound good? It all depends on where it ends up'

Recyclable and compostable options are only truly beneficial if they end up, and are processed, in the correct waste facility, writes industry expert Brian O’Sullivan.

Brian O'Sullivan

YOU’VE BOUGHT YOUR morning coffee and it comes in a compostable cup. However, what do you do with it after you have finished it? It’s estimated that only 1 in 400 cups and lids are actually recycled or composted correctly.

Here is where the confusion lies. Many people may not realise that composting can only occur in a controlled environment. By throwing compostable cups in recycling bins or in general waste, the vast majority of them end up in landfills or incinerators.

Compostable products need exposure to moisture, oxygen and bacteria in order to break down — not the conditions of a landfill.

Contaminant

Also, if biodegradable plastic such as CPLA is put into recycling, it becomes a contaminant.

As Managing Director and founder of Zeus, the Irish global packaging solutions company, I am keenly aware of the challenges and trends happening within our industry. Zeus has been making compostable cups for 10 years.

There is much more of a collective spirit to move towards more sustainable products.

However, recyclable and compostable options are only truly beneficial if they end up, and are processed, in the correct waste facility. In Ireland alone, it is estimated that 2 million single-use cups make their way to landfill every day. This needs to be improved.

Small moves can make big changes

It is great that so many have gone compostable but now we need to close the loop. Our latest compostable cup is completely paper-free. The Treefree Cup is made from bagasse — sugar-cane fibres left over from the sugar extraction process. The lids are also compostable, made from CPLA, a biodegradable bio-plastic made from corn starch.

These are part of our sustainable new Leafware range, which provides a wide range of eco-friendly and compostable products.

While the Treefree Cup will help alleviate some of the strain on the world’s forests — an estimated 20 million trees are cut down every year to produce disposable paper coffee cups — we have also devised a new system that bring sustainability to the next level. We have dedicated collection bins in premises for customers to dispose of their cups and lids after use.

We then collect them, and ensure they are brought for composting, instead of ending up in landfills, incinerators or recycling centres. This closed-loop system means it is the most sustainable option currently available in Ireland.

They are only better if they are processed correctly

It’s all about driving that message home — while compostable cups and lids are a more sustainable option than standard paper or card single-use cups, they are only truly better for the environment if they are processed correctly.

There is no single right answer to solve the problem of single-use items. However, by investing in more sustainable materials, and putting the right infrastructures in place, we can all play a part in ensuring as many single-use items as possible are diverted from the landfill and incineration. Small moves can make big changes.

Brian O’Sullivan is Managing Director of Zeus, Irish global packaging solutions company.

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Brian O'Sullivan

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