Can you compost paper cups? The reply is yes, no and depends.
I emailed a variety of businesses that produce paper cups and asked them if their cups contained a plastic liner, and if so, what kind was used.
With the exception of Solo and Chinet, all the other companies got to me (although Dart and Solo appear to be portion of the same conglomerate, and Dart replied). I couldn’t tell if the customer service people were weirded out by my questions… am I the only person asking this? Probably close to it, but hopefully not the only one.
My research into Solo was definitely the most peculiar. I needed no clue there is a (terrible) song dedicated to red solo cups, and after that within that song proclaiming that “within 14 years these are decomposable”… happen Toby- plastic doesn’t decompose, it merely breaks into smaller pieces for the fish to consume. Going further, there’s a Facebook page sporting over 45,000 likes… for red solo cups.
Anyway, Solo does have an “eco forward” product line called Bare. Rejoice. This cup uses a whopping 20% post consumer recycled plastic in their plastic cups. I had been hoping their eco line might have either cups made from PLA or paper cups having a soybean wax liner, having said that i guess you can’t get it all. Avoid this company. Could be the competition far better?
I’m getting in front of myself. My point for doing the investigation to begin with was because I didn’t recognize that nearly all paper cups possess a thin plastic (polyethylene) lining inside of them, which would be to keep the cup from failing (think coffee). Surprisingly, even significant amounts of the “cold cups” possess a liner too.
I understand from experience that it’s difficult to employ a bioplastic cup with hot liquid inside it… the cup falls apart pretty quickly. However I also understand that it’s possible to use a paper cup having a PLA (polylactic acid, a compostable plastic) liner with great outcomes. How about a doubly thick paper cup with wax?
Exactly what is the best solution if you need to utilize a paper cup? Paper cups will go within the compost pile no problem, just don’t expect them to come out for some time, and they’ll remind you that you simply put them in there by leaving behind a plastic skeleton. Fat chance this would be recycled, but it’s very easy to pull these out from finished compost and place them in the blue bin.
One other option is to “recycle” the paper cup, which can be more often done than composting. In recycled paper processing mills, the slurry coming from a pulper is screened to remove plastic, ink, clay, dirt, metals, etc from the paper. Therefore, the cup’s plastic liner is recognized as a contaminant. What will happen for this sludge from here?
Any better ideas? The coolest example I’ve experienced showed itself once i continued vacation to Panama recently. I received a paper coffee cup with a fold-out handle which means you don’t burn both hands, while eliminating the requirement for the cardboard sleeve.
I want to understand more about this design, and then wonder why I don’t see these more regularly. Maybe they’re a little more tedious to manufacture… who knows? I believe this idea is getting somewhere, though. The real victory will be if this type of cup didn’t use a plastic liner. I have to discover.
Exactly what are other businesses doing? All the different answers went from mostly plastic liner, PLA liner, or wax lining (only in cold cups). Another company uses sugar cane bagasse, and using this process extraction material for paper products rather than burning it for fuel is actually a better use.
Overall, 6 away from 8 major paper cup manufacturers enjoyed a compostable liner option available, so it would be reasonable to assume which a demand has arisen for such a product.
The drawback is the fact they’re higher priced, and odds are slim that they will biodegrade properly at home composting setup, unless there is a sustained hot pile going. This reminds me in the Sun Chips bag dilemma… technically kurifp , but not very likely to happen for most of us.
I’m still a fan of the wax lining, although wax also takes forever to interrupt down and is also usually paraffin, which hails from petroleum, which can bother some home composters. Any cups having a soybean wax liner available available? This may not be the right question to be asking. Returning to the boring basics- use your own cup as often as possible in order to avoid sending those plastic skeletons to the landfill/oceans.