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This recycling giant just took a big step in the race to find the coffee cup of the future

Brian Sozzi
·Editor-at-Large
·3 mins read

Your Morning Joe will in the not-too-distant future be carried in a much Earth friendlier cup...at long last.

Recycling giant Georgia Pacific said this week two of its facilities — one in Wisconsin and the other in Oklahoma — will now accept mixed paper bales that contain single-use polyethylene (PE)-coated paper cups. These are the cheap-to-buy cups that have long been used by fast-food kings such as Starbucks and McDonald’s to hold hot drinks.

By accepting the new mixed bales with PE-coated cups, Georgia Pacific (a Koch company) says it will be able to recycle them through the use of new technology. In turn, the recycled materials will go toward being used to create napkins, paper towels and toilet paper.

The company is also working with NextGen Consortium to develop new non-polyethylene next generation cups.

“We have been working on this technology for 10 years,” Georgia Pacific vice president of sustainability John Mulcahy told Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade. “The cup has a layer of polyethylene on it that prevents liquid from soaking into the paper, which has been the historical challenge [on the recycling front].

The race to find the next generation fast-food cup has sped up in 2020 amid greater focus on climate change. Nearly 16 billion disposable cups are used each year, according to Green Match.

In February, NextGen Consortium (who has been leading the charge on challenging entrepreneurs to develop next generation cups) announced the launch of reusable cup pilots at some cafes in San Francisco and Palo Alto.

Food  plastic packaging  on  black background. Concept of Recycling plastic and ecology. Flat lay, top view
Food plastic packaging on black background. Concept of Recycling plastic and ecology. Flat lay, top view

The cups being used in the pilot program come from two companies: CupClub and Muuse.

CupClub’s cup is made from recyclable polypropylene and is alleged to be fine for up to 132 uses. Muuse’s cup is made from stainless steel. A user grabs a cup from the coffee counter, scans an app to check in and then gets their coffee. They then check out on the app and return the cup to a store when done.

“Scaling the next generation cup won't happen overnight; the cup system is complex and calls for multiple layers of testing. From the ability for baristas and customers to handle cups with ease, to alignment with diverse waste recovery systems after-use, testing is key. Reusable cup systems will need to be cost-competitive, integrate smoothly across diverse operations and technology platforms, minimize operational disruption, and have a positive impact on the environment and meet the convenience and performance standards customers know and trust in order to scale,” said Next Consortium in a statement.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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