Compostable cups provide ‘limited solutions’

22 Aug 2019

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When not disposed of properly, compostable packaging can have a similar environmental impact to regular packaging because it requires special treatment to break down quickly

Most of the compostable cups sold by coffee chains are likely to end up in landfill because customers do not put them in the correct bins, a recycling expert has warned.

Among the outlets offering the cups is Insomnia, which replaced all single-use cups with those made from compostable materials and introduced special compost bins in- store last year. A proposal by the chain to install public bins as part of the launch was rejected by Dublin City Council.

Declan Breen, waste prevention officer for the eastern midlands region, said lack of suitable bins meant that such supposedly environmentally friendly packaging provided only a “limited solution”.

When not disposed of properly, compostable packaging can have a similar environmental impact to regular packaging because it requires special treatment to break down quickly. The industrial production of compostable cups is also just as environmentally damaging as that of other cups.

“The very nature of these cups being used for consumption on the go will mean that the majority will end up in the incorrect bin,” Breen said.

“Compostable materials such as cups need to be placed in either your food waste recycle bin – that is collected, treated in an industrial composting facility or through anaerobic digestion – or if you home compost, they can also be placed in there.”

In an industrial composting facility, it can take more than six weeks to break down compostable materials, while home composting can take more than 180 days. The same compostable materials will not break down naturally.

“In Ireland, we do not have on-street food waste recycle bins, meaning they will go into general waste. The waste from street bins will end up in landfill, as collection from these bins is exempt from the landfill levy,” said Breen.

A spokesman for Insomnia said: “We were the first Irish coffee chain to introduce segregated bins in all of our high-street stores. These bins have separate sections for recyclable materials, compostable materials and liquids.”

An analysis of figures supplied to The Sunday Business Post suggest that less than 4 per cent of Insomnia’s compostable cups end up in the in-store compost bins.

Breen welcomed the move to compostable materials, but warned that without suitable public bins, the environmental benefits would be minimal.

Source: The Business Post