Making Disposable Cups Compostable
What is a compostable disposable product?
By definition a compostable paper cup or disposable cup must degrade within 12 weeks, under commercial composting conditions and the international standard that you must achieve to be able to call your product compostable is EN13432.
Normal cups are made using cupboard that comes from wood pulp and a fine lining of polyethylene (PE) on the inner wall, which ensures that when the cup is produced it is then watertight, but they do not compost. To make a cup compostable you have to use other methods of manufacturing , but at the same time make sure the cup is functional in the same way as the normal PE cup is. This is not an easy task
So how is this done?
The new route that is being adopted is to use either waste sugar cane pulp, or bamboo, to make disposable cups. Making the cups using either of these products is a giant leap forward environmentally as no trees are used in the making of the cupboard that is necessary to make a paper cup. Replacing the inner lining of PE in the cup with PLA, (a starch product derived from cereals), or doing away completely with the inner lining now makes the disposable cup 100% compostable.
So which is best to take?
The answer to that is a difficult one.
Firstly are you going to just put the cup in your rubbish bin? If so the chances are it’s going to end up in a landfill with all the other items, possibly with thousands of tons of other rubbish on top of it. If that’s the case you might as well buy normal cups as no cup is going to degrade under these circumstances, even if its the greenest cup in the world. So you have to make sure the recycling path you choose does what it says on the tin, so as to ensure that they are processed correctly. Having a compostable cup means that you can advertise this to your customers that all they have to do is put it in the “green bin” or food recycling bin. Let your recycling company know about your efforts, so the cups end up in the compostable waste and if this is done and with more education throwing your waste cup in the green bin will be as natural as smiling.
Finally the cost….
Compostable cups are more expensive than normal cups, but the environmental cost benefit outweighs the extra charges.
The debate will continue and more work has to be done to ensure that the disposal of these items meets the best environmental standard.
I hope that this article helps you appreciate the complexities of this issue and of course we always welcome your comments.