Replacing polyethylene to make paper cups more recyclable

The facts

20 million+ trees are cut down for single-use paper cups every year
One tree produces between 2,500 and 3,000 paper cups
500 billion paper coffee cups are used worldwide annually
Less than 1% of paper coffee cups used worldwide are recycled


The challenge

While the public may think that most paper cups get recycled, that’s not the case. We use around 500 billion disposable coffee cups worldwide each year and less than 1% of those get recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills or, worse still, in the ocean.

Currently, most paper cups are created with a plastic polyethylene coating to act as a moisture barrier and joint sealant. Without this layer, cups would fail to hold liquids for more than a few minutes.

However, it becomes complicated, costly and challenging to effectively process paper cups for recycling. Furthermore, this unrecycled plastic can take decades to break down harming the natural environment.

Our innovative approach

It started with a discussion with a manufacturer (an advanced process developer in the paper industry), then it quickly turned into a brainstorming session. Next came the workshop where samples were produced and iterated. The process was complex, but the challenge was always evident.

We asked ourselves how we could increase the recyclability of disposable coffee cups. With our partner, an advanced technology developer for moulded pulp and paper forming, we began to moulded pulp and paper forming, we began to reimagine how the paper cup is made.

Our in-depth product knowledge and our out-of-box thinking when exploring possible new applications for existing materials led us to a natural, organic polymer commonly used in natural, organic polymer commonly used in detergent tablets. By laminating this polymer in conjunction with our partner’s unique conjunction with our par manufacturing process, we are developing a formed paper cup with no joints.

The outcome

This new and patented process makes the paper hydrophobic so that it can hold liquids.

At the same time, the final product is entirely natural and fully recyclable as the natural polymer and fully recyclable as the natural polymer dissolves during the process.

As the paper cups become available for major coffee and food brands worldwide, we’re excited to see how our technology can help reduce the billions of disposable cups that go unrecycled each year.

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