Biodegradation & Compostation Recycling Waste Management

How to Recycle Biodegradable Coffee Cups?

Just 0.25 % of the 2.5 billion cups disposed of annually in the UK are recycled.

Most coffee cups are made with a cardboard outer layer and a plastic lining and the materials are difficult to separate. They can contaminate the paper and cardboard waste stream with the plastic and any liquid remaining in the cup.

Packaging company DS Smith announced a new solution: they separate the paper fibre from the plastic lining by adding warm water and pressure, leaving the lining fully intact for extraction. However, the collection of cups for recycling remains a big issue.

Go-Pak makes Edenware coffee cups made of paperboard lined with plant-based polylactic acid (PLA).

Mike Bristow, Sales Director at Go-Pak, said

“PLA lining is only compostable in commercial facilities where temperature, humidity and other variables are controlled to facilitate effective biodegradation.”

Mandy Kelly, Senior Recycling Manager, said

“ACE UK do not want to receive PLA as part of the infeed stock (food and drink cartons and PE-lined paper cups) for the plant as it contaminates our separated polyal (polyethylene and aluminium) output stream.”

Clayson Smith, Senior Manager at DS Smith, said

“PLA linings behave in a similar manner to the plastic lining in our process but may break up more than PE linings, so as such are an unwanted contaminant.”

Studies have found that if sent to landfill, PLA will decompose anaerobically and produce methane.

Vegware produces coffee cups made from CPLA (crystallised PLA) that have been designed to be recycled with food waste via industrial composting.

Vegware collaborates with HOTBIN (home compost bin that heats waste to 60oC) to compost Vegware’s products within 12 weeks.

Biodegradable cups, when composted properly, are more environmentally friendly than standard coffee cups – and companies such as Vegware are working with the waste industry to improve ease of access to composting facilities.


  • Why would you want to recycle something that is biodegradable?
  • EU Parliament recently voted on the SUP (single-use plastics) directive to reduce plastic waste in the oceans. The most important measure was the ban on plastic straws. What we call a “circus measure to appease the fools”. Plastic straws are probably the smallest source of plastic waste in the oceans. They usually end up incinerated.
  • The most important sources of plastic waste in the oceans are fishing nets, plastics used in the agri sector (polyethylene and polypropylene) and the Chinese.