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Are single-use cups really necessary? Is it possible that reusable cups could help reduce the total consumption of single-use cups? Are the virgin fibers sourced from sustainably managed forests, and what percentage of the fiber is recycled? Is it possible to recycle the cup after it has been used? Is it compostable or recyclable?

When analyzing the long-term viability of paper cups, three sorts of questions are typically posed:

How likely is it that we'll be able to go back to a time before single-use paper cups were commonplace? The difficulty is well-illustrated by Starbucks' experience. Since 1985, Starbucks has offered cash incentives to customers who bring their own reusable cups, but only a small percentage of those consumers have taken advantage of the offer. An effort that was supposed to encourage 25% of customers to bring their own cups started in 2008, but only 2% of customers really did.

Cups that can be used again and again

There was a big uproar in 2012 when Starbucks released a $1 plastic cup with a screw-on top. However, a large polling organization found that in early 2013, more than half of American adults stated they "probably or certainly would not purchase one." If it were up to us, many of us wouldn't bother remembering to bring our reusable cup to the store.

$1 plastic cup with a screw-on top

What happened as a result of After engaging

As of the end of 2012, 850 Tim Hortons locations recycled paper cup waste from their operations. All cups and take-out trays from Tim Hortons in Nova Scotia could be saved from the garbage.The degree of civic involvement provided an easy way to gauge the effectiveness of the project. For the initiative to be successful, Patterson believes all stakeholders had to be included, even those who weren't originally enthusiastic.

It was also necessary to have a committed personnel base keen to adopt a sustainable culture inside the Tim Hortons community in order to ensure customer and guest involvement. To demonstrate how far the idea had spread, college students in Nova Scotia began assembling Tim Hortons cups and transporting them to restaurant recycling facilities.

Innovating for Sustainability

The Network for Business Sustainability's "Innovating for Sustainability" report includes numerous techniques that the cup-to-tray recycling operation exemplifies. Customer insight and input from across the organization were critical to the project's success, as was multi-level internal and external collaboration. Through outreach and network expansion, Tim Hortons is now in a position to leverage the expertise of adjacent industries like waste management and paper manufacture for its own benefit.

Unlearning outmoded information and dispelling the notion that it was an impossibility were both necessary for the successful implementation of the revolutionary "cradle-to-cradle" design strategy. Although the cup-to-tray idea seemed like a daunting goal, Patterson says Tim Hortons strived to convince weary stakeholders that the process wouldn't be as difficult to manage as it was perceived. Nova Scotia municipalities warned the firm for years that it was impossible, but now all 156 of the province's locales have closed the loop.

A trip along memory lane

It was in the early 1900s when disposable paper cups made their initial appearance in the United States; they were known as Dixie cups at the time. As public health concerns grew, these cups began to replace the shared water fountain cups that were previously utilized. Paper cups were quickly embraced for hygiene reasons in hospitals and schools. The age of the single-use cup began after early studies showed that paper cups cost less per use than washing and sterilizing reusable glasses.

Solid bleached sulphate (SBS) paperboard is used to make hot and cold paper cups, with a waterproofing polymer layer applied for aesthetic purposes. Paper cups come in a wide variety of compositions, although most are made up of at least 90% paper fiber.

Recycling

Waterproofing

Waterproofing was formerly done using a clay or wax lining, but since the invention of polyethylene (PE), plastic linings and coatings have become nearly universal. For lining, PE and related materials outperform clay and wax since they don't emit the foul odors or tastes that they used to. PE, the coating used on the majority of modern mugs, is nonbiodegradable. Despite the fact that some people utilize polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable bioplastic, PLA does not have a clear advantage over polyethylene (PE).

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Paper cups made of reclaimed fibers.

What about improving the recycled fiber content of single-use paper cups instead of bringing reusable containers to food service establishments? As the largest quick-serve restaurant business in the United States, McDonald's has no recycling program for paper cups, although it does have one for other consumer-facing packaging. Consumer-facing fiber-based packaging accounted for 53% of the chain's 2015 ESG reporting, with a goal of 100% by 2020, according to the chain's latest environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting.

Sustainable forests' fibers

Mcdonald's gives background information on procuring sustainable forests' fibers, but does not disclose information on the percentage of recycled fibers used in its packaging. Starbucks, the second-largest quick-serve business in the United States, was a pioneer in working with the FDA to approve paper cups made with 10% post-consumer fiber as early as in 2006.

To meet this aim, the business established a 2022 deadline for increasing the amount of post-consumer recycled fiber in their paper cups from 10 percent to 20 percent. Napkins, for example, are another Starbucks product that uses recycled fiber.

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According to industry estimates

the combined consumption of post-consumer single-use paper cups in the United States and Canada is between 600,000 and 800,000 tons per year.

What's better: composting or recycling?

Can cups at least be composted or recycled if increasing the post-consumer recycled content is not feasible? Poly lining in cups, which is not biodegradable and poses certain issues for material recovery facilities (MRFs) and end-user mills, has traditionally been the response to this question: "No."

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Collection, sorting/baling, and pulping

These all are steps in the cup recycling process.For one thing, recycling saves on virgin fiber costs by diverting it to a paper product that uses a lesser grade of fiber than the kind used to create cups.

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