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The battle with the disposable coffee cup

Our on-the-go lifestyles and passionate love for caffeine makes using disposable cups a natural behavior for us. But it’s thought that the average American office worker uses 500 disposable cups each year! And with approximately 323 million people in the USA, this waste can really start to add up.

Recycling disposable paper cups isn’t as simple as it may seem – did you know you can’t just throw them in the paper recycling bin like your run-of-the-mill office sheet paper. So what’s a coffee lover to do?

coffee beans


The interior of disposable paper cups are often lined with soft plastic or wax to prevent leaking, control extreme temperatures and increase durability. This creates a significant challenge when it comes to recycling as the cup needs to be stripped of its coating and broken down which requires specialized infrastructure to do so.

Another problem is the lack of receptacles dedicated to the collection of disposable cups. This means that these cups can often end up in parks, on our sidewalks, in ditches, on beaches – everywhere but in a proper collection system! They also often end up being tossed in the nearest general trash can or contaminating other recycling containers – which can often render the entire waste unrecyclable to the hauler.

The complexity of the materials used to make disposable coffee cups means not many recycling centers have the necessary machinery to process disposable cups. With this in mind, only a select few communities currently offer these recycling services, which means some businesses and individuals may not yet be able to recycle their cups.


We recommend checking whether your local MRF has the ability to recycle disposable paper cups. If they do, then you will be able to collect coffee cups and send these to be recycled. In this case, we recommend using a cup recycling bin to collect coffee cups and reduce cross-contamination with other recyclable and non-recyclable waste streams.

But what if there isn't a nearby recycling facility for paper cups?

Before you panic, there’s no need to give up your coffee drinking ways (as if you would) as we can all make small changes to help with this pressing issue.

For disposable cup recycling to become a reality, used cups need to be collected systematically in bulk - this is where stream specific recycling bins come in. By offering a cup recycling bin in areas where coffee is likely to be consumed - whether that’s coffee shops, quick service restaurants or offices - the likelihood of tossing used cups in any old trash can is reduced. A dedicated recycling container for disposable cups will ensure that this waste does not contaminate other recyclable streams and it will also make bulk collection easier for you too.

Managing the environmental impact of disposable paper cups will take innovation and collaboration as well as improvements to local government policies, recycling infrastructure and general public awareness. But providing the opportunity to recycle the cup that holds your venti chai latte with soy milk is definitely a good place to start.

Design features of the Eco Nexus® Cup Recycling Station

insitu image of Eco Nexus Cup Recycling Station

Features 2 dedicated cup apertures

Internal reservoir for unwanted liquid

Drip tray

Personalize with company logo

Non-marking feet

Ideal for coffee shops and office areas

To find your nearest cup recycling facility, click here.

For more information on our disposable cup recycling bins, please get in touch with us today!

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Friday, May 27, 2016
NRPA Corporate Member The Green Web Foundation