For decades, many single-use polyethylene (PE)-coated paper cups – the ubiquitous vessel for so many coffees and teas from quick-service restaurants – have been left out of the recovery and recycling process. Long believed to be unrecyclable, they were sent to a landfill.
That’s about to change.
Koch company Georgia-Pacific’s mills in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Muskogee, Oklahoma, are now able to recycle those PE-coated paper cups using new technology thanks to a collaboration between Georgia-Pacific, Foodservice Packaging Institute and NextGen Consortium, a global initiative led by Closed Loop Partners that represents some of the largest quick-service restaurants and cafés in the world.
Georgia-Pacific facilities conducted extensive re-pulping trials, which proved the technology can effectively recapture valuable cup fiber from the discarded paper cups while screening out the PE coatings that made recycling impossible. That recovered fiber is then recycled into new paper products, such as toilet tissue, napkins and paper towels.
“As single-use paper cups have grown in popularity in recent years so, too, has paper cup waste. As a leading manufacturer of paper foodservice products, we continually look for ways to consume fewer resources as part of our longer-term strategy to identify solutions that benefit society. Accepting mixed paper bales containing PE-coated cups at our Green Bay and Muskogee mills is a significant step in this direction,” said John Mulcahy, vice president of sustainability for Georgia-Pacific, which manufactures the Dixie® brand of paper cups.
Beyond its current repulping efforts, Georgia-Pacific is continuing work with the NextGen Consortium on trial processes for the repulping of next-generation paper cups that replace the PE-coating with materials that can be recycled and/or composted.
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Top photo: Georgia-Pacific’s Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Muskogee, Oklahoma, recycled paper mills are now accepting mixed paper bales with PE-coated paper cups, opening opportunities for single-use paper cup recycling.