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Plastic-Free Paper Cups

By Steffen Andersen · 12. October 2019

This blogpost will give you an overview of one of the newest interventions within paper cups, plastic-free paper cups. The blog-post will cover how they are produced, how they can be recycled or composted.

Production of Plastic-free paper cups

In this section we will talk about the production of plastic-free paper cups. We will go into depth with which materials are used to produce them and how they are made.

Raw Material used for plastic-free paper cups

A smart innovative idea is being used now to create paper cups without the plastic layer and it is 100% recyclable, it is made with water-based dispersion coating to form an effective barrier inside the cup to be able to contain liquids. 

The primary problem with making plastic-free paper cups have been to make a coating that was able to contain liquids, why plastic before have been used as the primary coating. The water-based dispersion coating is made by mixing chemicals with the pulp that then are put into a water fuse together to form a thin layer. When the water is dried off the layer that is sticking to the pulp will then form a barrier that is able to contain liquids.

The main resource of plastic-free paper cups is pulp from trees, which is made to form the paper. If you want more information about how a tree becomes pulp to finally be made to paper cups, then you can read about the process here.

It is important to point out that one of the things that makes the plastic-free paper cups able to contain liquids, is that the pulp does not come from recycled materials but it newly produced.

Process of Chemi-thermomechanical wood pulp

The middle layer of the cup is with chemi-thermomechanical pulp which helps to hold together the other layers which are created from water-based dispersion. Below I will describe how chemi-thermomechanical wood pulp is created.

Line 1 Refiner

Before the wood chips are converted into pulp, they are sent through cleaning, steaming and drying so they can be able to absorb the chemicals. Pulp afterwards is set to be refined before it starts bleaching and apply the rest of the chemicals. When the pulp has passed all important stages, finally is set to get dried in a wind tunnel with 230 celsius.

Finalizing and producing the product

As described in the last two sections, the primary intervention with plastic-free paper cup is the coating. The process of producing them are therefore the same as with normal paper cups and the plastic-free paper cups can therefore be produced by all paper cups manufacturers. If you are interested in how paper cups are produced you can read more about it in a blog post we wrote about this.

Usage of the product

The plastic-free paper cups are like normal paper cups mainly used by cafes, restaurants and hotels. It is direct replacement of normal paper cups and can be used in all the same occasions since they are just as good at containing both hot and cold liquids. The plastic-free paper cups have the same restrictions regarding alcohol as normal paper cups, which means they cannot contain strong alcohol so they should not contain drinks with more than 5% alcohol. The manufacturers of the plastic-paper for the paper cups specifies that the cups can be used to serve beer without foaming too much, which is normally a problem.

Recyclability

This section will give an overview of how plastic free paper cups can be decomposed, if they can be thrown out in nature? And how the plastic-free paper cups are recyclable and if all materials can be recycled.

Composting

When it comes to composting and plastic-free paper cups there are ongoing tests about the cup that they want to make sure are they compostable when throwing in nature. Most of the reports are showing that they are able to be compostable but to make sure, they have to be completely under the temperature conditions of 20-30 celsius. If they are under that temperature, it will take them to be decomposed within 26 weeks, so they should still be sent to normal composting facilities to make sure they are composed in a proper way.

Recycling – to other paper products

In this section we will have a look at how the plastic-free paper cups can be recycled, it is important to remember that when the paper cups are recycled they cannot be used to produce other food packaging products, since it is not allowed to use recycled paper when making food contact materials. 

Paper cups that are manufactured from virgin wood fibers and other relevant chemicals which makes it more easy and available for more recycling technologies to complete the process without any problems.

New pulp can easily be recycled to other paper products and can be repulped even up to seven times when recycled more than seven times it will not have the same quality standard. 

The vision was clear since the beginning, which was to produce easily recyclable, on-machine coated barrier boards for the foodservice industry and that includes plastic-free paper cups that are now also biodegradable.

© Boxed Water Is Better. Recycled plastic-free product

These products are designed to be easily recycled and repulped so all recovery fibre facility that can process carton-board products can process them without any problems. All paper boards produced with the process of being plastic-free paper are proven to be recyclable and repulpable in conventional recovered fiber facilities. So the cups should be collected with other recyclable materials such as newspapers, magasins and etc. 

Since the paper cups can be recycled in normal recycling facilities this creates an efficient recycling system and process. Food services companies using wood fiber-based cups can then improve their environmental footprint easily with plastic-free paper cups. If the goal is to create a business model where customers can be a part of collecting paper cups, definitely the recycling process should be easy.

Advantages and Disadvantages

In this last section, we will be mentioning all the important advantages and disadvantages that plastic-free paper cups have from their early stages where they are produced up to where they are used and thrown away for recycling.

Advantages

First of all, the biggest benefit of using plastic-free paper cups is that will help reduce plastic waste and one single-use paper cups which end up in landfills and not in recycling facilities. Other than helping the environment, coffee chains and restaurant/fast-food chains can save a lot on waste charges, as the containers are recyclable.

Nowadays, everyone is concerned about the environment so they are looking out to use more sustainable products, so offering to the public friendly packaging products, will help raise brand benefits. Since normal paper cups are coated with PE-plastic layer, are almost impossible to recycle since they need to be recycled at special recycling facilities that most countries do not have, they were not recycled with the new plastic-free paper cups can be.

Recycle symbol

Since plastic-free paper cups are designed and produced to be easily recyclable, it is a significant advantage that they are proven to be recyclable and repulpable along with other paper and board waste. With that being said, it is also a time saving for paper mill facilities and the consumers, since they are being thrown in normal trash bins with other paper products that are recycled all together at available recovered fiber facilities.

Disadvantages

One of the possibilities with plastic-free paper cups is that they should be able to decompose in nature, but unfortunately, there is not still a report about plastic-free paper cups that says they are compostable even if they are thrown in nature, but there are ongoing tests to make sure they are compostable.

One of the primary problems with plastic-free paper cups is that you would need to teach all the recycling facilities that the plastic-free paper cups actually can be recycled and that the paper is of high enough quality to be used for producing magasines, papers, and other paper products.

When you have told the recycling facilities that, plastic-free paper cups can be recycled there will also be a problem with differentiating plastic-free paper cups from normal paper cups, since that if normal paper cups go into recycling process while containing plastic it can destroy the whole badge of recycled paper. 

It is hard to differentiate plastic-free paper cups from normal paper cups at the garbage facilities, why it is not sure that they will be recycled at the recycling facilities. Missing infrastructure to collect the paper cups. Information to the recycling facilities about the paper cups and what can be recycled.

Content and Marketing Manager at Limepack

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