An at-scale solution to a collective challenge.

Learn more about the cup recycling journey below and click on the red icons for more details.

1. Cups are collected on site

Cups can be collected on site in a source-segregated manner. If a quick service restaurant, purpose built bins can be placed on your premises to segregate the cups from other waste.

If based in an office environment, the used cups can be segregated using a traceable sack. In all instances, the segregated cups can then be collected by either your standard waste collector, or via The Cup Collective.

2. Cups are sorted and baled

Once collected, all of the cups are returned to a central depot for sorting, aggregation and baling. The sorting ensures that the used cups meet the quality standards required by the mill(s) for recycling and acts as a quality control. Substandard material can easily be traced using the traceable sack technology. Once the cups have passed quality control, they are aggregated and baled for their onward journey to the mill. Baling the cups compacts them, meaning:

  • Much easier handling of material  (stacking, storage and moving)
  • A much larger volume can be transported each time,
  • Reducing carbon footprint, and
  • Saving transport costs.

3. Cups are sent to the recycling facility

Upon arrival at the mill, the bales of used cups will undergo further quality inspection and, once approved, will be used within the mill’s recycling process.

4. Fibers are recovered in the pulping process

Paper mills use pulpers to break down the recovered paper and cups to extract the valuable fiber contained within them. Paper cup fibers are long in length and in demand for high quality recycling applications such as magazine papers.

Due to the blades within the pulpers, the fibers will be cut shorter each time they are recycled, but even then they can be used in items such as toilet or tissue paper before they become contaminated and discarded

5. Fiber is used to make new paper products

Recovered paper can be recycled into all manner of new paper products, they too can then be collected and recycled.

6. Paper products can be recycled again and again after use

According to a study conducted by Graz University of Technology in Austria, fibre-based packaging material can be recycled at least 25 times without losing its mechanical or structural integrity. Paper cups are made from virgin fiber meaning that it has never been used before and is of the highest quality. The aim is to get the fiber to be recycled as many times as possible before it can no longer be used.

The Circular Story.

Where paper cups fit in the circular story

The recycling loop: clarity on circularity

In most economies, the production process is linear; we take materials from the earth, make products from them, and eventually discard them as waste. It is a conveyor belt: make, use and dispose.

In contrast, a circular economy works on a sustainable principle of sharing, reusing, repairing and recycling the waste products back within the supply chain.

Open-loop and closed-loop recycling

Closed-loop recycling is a process where manufactured goods are recycled back into itself or a similar product e.g. glass bottles become glass bottles.

On the other hand, open-loop recycling converts secondary raw material into a new product e.g. paper cups become magazine paper, become a cup carrier and so on.

To ensure that food and beverage packaging meets the highest safety standards for consumers, used paper cups are recycled in open-loop recycling. Open-loop recycling enables efficient collection, sorting and recycling to maximize the value of secondary raw materials in circular economy.

The Cup Collective enhances the circular economy

The Cup Collective is focused on reducing the environmental impact of paper cups by creating a transparent, open-loop recycling system that integrates paper cups into the circular economy. This maximizes the opportunity to recycle the cups many more times e.g. from cup to magazine, to cup-carrier, to cardboard, generating added value at every stage along the way by prolonging the wood fiber’s life-cycle.

Delivering systemic change through partnership

Building robust systems to solve a recycling challenge of this magnitude calls for a united will and collective action and we work with our partners through the value chain to do this together. To drive the change, we need:

  • Businesses to provide collection and recycling infrastructure, and
  • Consumers to adopt new behaviours, and
  • Researchers and scientists to develop new innovations, and
  • Policy makers to drive enabling legislation.

From manufacturing to waste collectors, governments to consumers, we all need to play our part in the recycling journey of a cup. This change will happen more quickly through collaboration and engagement with all supply chain partners.

Join us and together we can achieve our circular ambition and give paper cups multiple lives beyond the bin.