Australia uses and disposes of an estimated one billion coffee cups every year (source).
If these aren’t disposed of responsibly, many of them wind up in landfills and pollute our environment and waterways.
So it’s not surprising that “are coffee cups recyclable” is an ongoing question from conscious consumers around Australia (with very few straightforward answers out there).
So, are takeaway coffee cups recyclable in Australia or not?
This article will dive into coffee cup disposal methods, recyclable claims, and explore another sustainable alternative – certified compostable coffee cups.
Most of the time, the answer is no.
Traditional disposable coffee cups can’t be recycled because they have a plastic liner. Paper coffee cups are technically recyclable, but most councils in Australia don’t accept them in household recycling bins because they don’t have the facilities to process them properly.
In fact, APCO, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (the authority in terms of what can and can’t be claimed on packaging) advises labelling coffee cups as Not Recyclable until further notice.
In saying that, there are a few councils in Australia that allow paper coffee cups in their household recycling bin (we recommend you check with your council directly for more information).
What’s more, there are a number of specialised coffee cup recycling programs emerging – like SimplyCups and RecycleMe (more on these in a minute).
If you’re ever unsure, you can use the Recycle Mate app to search and scan your item.
Greenwashing is everywhere in the packaging industry. When products claim they’re ‘recyclable’ but there are no facilities in place to send them to, this is misleading and spreads confusion. That’s why you should approach ‘recyclable’ claims that have no proof with caution.
To help out consumers, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) launched The Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) Program – an on-pack labelling scheme.
The ARL program helps Australians and New Zealanders recycle their packaging and coffee cups appropriately.
The Program has two main features:
These labels are assigned by APCO in conjunction with the Australian government.
This item is safe for kerbside recycling (more than 80% of councils accept this item in kerbside recycling).
To recycle this item, follow the specific instructions beneath the label.
This item cannot be recycled in your kerbside recycling – place it in your general waste.
This item MAY be recyclable, check with arl.org.au for more information on your local area.
The PREP tool (developed by APCO) helps packaging designers and manufacturers assess recyclability.
It looks at how packaging can be collected, sorted, reprocessed, and reused in manufacturing in Australia and New Zealand and ultimately determines which label a packaging product gets.
You have to be a paid member to access PREP tool reports. But thankfully, we’ve accessed and used the tool to create the most accurate information for this article, and as it stands there are no kerbside recyclable coffee cups in Australia.
If recycling isn’t a practical solution for disposing of coffee cups, what’s a conscious consumer supposed to do?
Thankfully, there are options other than landfill.
We’re seeing several specialised recycling programs for coffee cups emerge, including Simply Cups and RecycleMe.
Simply Cups is a partnership with 7-11 and they provide more than 1,400 collection stations for takeaway coffee cups, including compostable cups. Simply Cups is set to receive a special ARL recycling logo later this year (although, this does not mean these cups are recyclable in kerbside recycling, they still have to be returned to a participating 7-11).
The RecycleMe initiative is another coffee cup recycling program. However, these are specific to only RecycleMe branded cups with collection bins located in participating outlets.
It’s clear that single-item collections like these are a positive step forward. However, the problem of coffee cup disposal still exists (these initiatives aren’t on a big enough scale).
Enter, certified compostable takeaway coffee cups.
At Compost Connect, we believe coffee cups that are certified home (AS5810) and industrially (AS4736) compostable are a sustainable and cost-effective solution.
We believe certified compostable takeaway coffee cups are the future. They’re a more sustainable solution than traditional coffee cups – at the end of their life they can easily be broken down in a composting environment and return to the soil.
Certified compostable coffee cups are typically made from rapidly renewable, reclaimed, plant-based raw materials, giving them the ability to break down in a composting environment.
Examples of compostable coffee cup materials include PLA plastic (a type of bioplastic often made from corn starch) and paper cups with an aqueous lining (a new home compostable solution, where the aqueous coating gets absorbed into the cup’s fibres).
But just like the recyclable logo, you should look for proof of certifications with compostable cups, too. There’s only one source of truth in Australia and New Zealand regarding a product’s compostability claims, the Certified Compostable Logo from the Australasian Bioplastic Association (ABA).
Below, you can see an example of the ABA Home (AS5810) and Industrially (AS4736) Compostable Logos. Look for one of these two logos AND the company’s sub-licence number stated underneath.
Industrially Compostable (AS4736)
Home Compostable (AS5810)
Learn more about composting certifications here.
There are two main types of composting – home composting and industrial composting. Both create nutrient-rich compost, they just achieve it in different ways. The Certified Compostable Logo on a coffee cup will tell you which method to use.
Any product with the correct industrially compostable logo can be sent to an industrial facility (find businesses that are sending their waste to commercial compost facilities). Any product with a home compostable logo can be thrown in your backyard compost.
Learn more about disposal here.
Traditional coffee cups aren’t recyclable in Australia – either because they have a plastic lining or we don’t have the facilities available to process them.
That’s why we believe certified compostable coffee cups are the way forward – providing a viable, cost-effective and sustainable alternative where your coffee cup turns into soil food!
In Australia and New Zealand, you should always look to The Australasian Recycling Label for proof in regards to a product’s recyclability claims and always look to the Certified Compostable Logo from Australasian Bioplastic Association (ABA) for proof in regards to a product’s compostability claims.
Composting is like nature’s version of recycling. It transforms food scraps, garden waste...Continue reading
The world of composting can be confusing. In a perfect world, you’d be...Continue reading
Do you recognise the compostable symbols, but still not know how to dispose...Continue reading