Green used paper coffee cup

Recycling used paper cups into magazine paper strengthens Stora Enso’s commitment to circular bioeconomy

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Langerbrugge Mill in Belgium has successfully recycled used paper cups in recycling trials, verifying a process that will cut the carbon footprint of disposable paper cups by a compelling 50 per cent.

Tiina Pursula, Vice President of Sustainability, Stora Enso Packaging Materials Division, what has been the main takeaway from the trials?

It was the fact that this could be done. Paper cups have a thin plastic coating to help retain liquid and we had not previously tested how easy it would be to separate it from the paper in a magazine paper mill, where the process time is very short. But we have done it successfully and we’re now ready to ramp up.

How are paper cups recycled to give them new life?

You could compare it to making a giant smoothie. The cups are mixed with water into a big slurry, then any reject materials are filtered out, leaving strong paper fibres ready for its next life.

Where will Stora Enso source the used paper cups?

We’ll be looking to wherever paper cups are in use, with a particular focus on high volume cafés and quick service restaurants. Of course, these channels depend on people using paper cups at the venues. When consumers take cups ‘to go’ they aren’t always disposed of in designated recycling bins. But we’ll also be working with waste collectors on that.

Will food service companies have an appetite for this?

Absolutely. By having our recycling process in place, they now have an easy channel to drive down their own environmental footprints. Logistically, there should be no difference to a café owner whether used cups are transported as recycling raw material to our nearby mill, or dumped in landfill, or sent to an incineration plant. But if they do recycle, these suppliers can then turn their contribution into value via their own sustainability communications and customer marketing.

How does this impact the recycled paper business in general?

It’s significant that the market for recycled fibre is already a 50 million tonne business in Europe. Bringing in paper cups, which are strong enough to have multiple uses, represents a new market opportunity as an underutilised source of quality, recycled paper.

Why should consumers care?

For consumers it’s a win-win. In addition to drinking from their low-carbon cups, they’ll also enjoy the many societal gains that come from less waste going into local landfills, and the reduced greenhouse gas emissions from more recycling.

What’s your biggest challenge going forward?

To reach industrial volumes, we’ll need to work with waste management partners to help mobilise the supply chain, as well as partners and customers to help build the kind of value chains that can take this project to the next level.

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Grist for the 'green' mill

  • Langerbrugge Mill is one of the largest paper mills in Europe, producing 540,000 tonnes of recycled paper annually
  • 80 million people live within 300 km of the mill, providing huge sourcing potential for used cups
  • Recycling a paperboard cup can cut its overall carbon footprint by 50 per cent.