Ecodek, a UK composite board manufacturer whose sustainability credentials stretch back two decades, has discovered a new, sustainable source of raw material. The company, which first started using recycled and sustainably sourced materials in its products in 2002, says it is now also able to incorporate single-use coffee cups into its composite board fabrication process.
Although technically recyclable, less than 1 in 400 – just 0.25 percent – of these cups enter the recycling process, mainly because of their design and due to ineffective waste separation processes
Disposable paper coffee cups generally feature a polyethylene liner, which is tightly bonded to the paper to make the cups waterproof and able to retain liquid. In addition, the cups are often contaminated with remnants of the drink they contained, so cannot be recycled at standard paper recycling plants and must instead be taken to special facilities – of which only a few exist throughout Europe.
Independent plastic recycling and resource management consultancy Nextek has now collaborated with Ecodek on the development of technology that enables strong blends of paper fibre and plastics to be effectively converted to manufacturing and building materials. The process enables Ecodek to repurpose used disposable coffee cups into a completely waterproof building material.
“Converting redundant HDPE milk bottles into decking composites will remain a key element of our manufacturing process; however, thanks to project partner Nextek we’re also taking this exciting sideways move and using expended paper-plastic cups,” Felicity Hodgkinson, Marketing Manager at Ecodek said.
“We’ve long advocated the advantages and social responsibilities of harvesting ‘resources’ from our urban waste supply as opposed to using virgin natural materials and plastics, believing that there is vast potential for international manufacturing to become more sustainable,” Hodgkinson added.
“As the infrastructure for post-use collection improves, so will opportunities to re-use paper-plastic cups, and perceptions of these throwaway items being environmentally damaging will alter. Hopefully, cups will start to be viewed as future manufacturing materials, and from there, the possibilities are endless.”
The project received funding from the Welsh Government and was led by WRAP Cymru.