In the UK there are 2.5 billion paper coffee cups used every year. Most of these cups don’t get recycled. The paper for the cups comes from 80 year old trees. So it takes 80 years to grow the tree which is used for your single use coffee cup.
The reason the existing cups need specialist facilities to recycle is that the cups are made from paper bonded with a thin layer of plastic on the inside (see How Existing Paper Cups are made). In addition, the paper is treated with waterproofing chemicals that make them difficult to recycle and very few cups ever make it to these specialist recycling plants.
Most people don’t know that the cups don’t get recycled. There is a perception that because the cups are made of paper they are recycled.
The existing cups require specialist recycling facilities which have to heat the cups to very high temperatures to separate the bonded paper and plastic layers. The process uses a lot more energy than normal card and many more chemicals.
The only cups that are recycled currently are those that are collected in stores. Once the cup has left the store there is no mechanism for the cups to get to the specialist plants.
The existing cup industry sees the problem as the responsibility of the councils. It doesn’t make economic sense to handpick coffee cups from a recycling stream at the recycling centres and councils see cups as a problem created by the cup makers and coffee shops.