Paper Cups

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Material Properties

Paper cups are typically manufactured using paper lined with polyethylene (PE) to ensure that they are waterproof; preventing liquid from leaking out or soaking through the paper. Paper cups used for cold beverage service also have an additional polyethylene lining on the outer to prevent condensation soaking into the paper and rendering it unstable.

Paper cups are generally manufactured using virgin material in order to meet hygiene standards. However, the price volatility of recycled fibre is also a limiting factor commercially for manufacturers seeking to incorporate recycled material into their manufacturing process. Recycled fibre can be more readily used for elements of the cup that do not come into contact with the beverage – for example, an extra insulating layer for heat retention such as a corrugated layer or double wall. Please note however, that the incorporation of recycled fibre on the outer of the cup can reduce the value of the used product for reprocessors seeking virgin fibres only.

Recyclability

Paper cups (and the wider polyethylene coated fibre category) present a problem for paper mills – the traditional route to recycle used fibres, given that the polyethylene lining either results in the material being rejected from their process and/or significantly reducing their yield (and therefore their financial return). As such, paper mills typically categorise used paper cups (and any polyethylene coated paper) as a contaminant.

As a result (and prior to the availability of specialist reprocessing facilities in the UK), there has been no local market for used paper cups and therefore no investment has been made in the required mechanical solution at sorting facilities to extract paper cups from a co-mingled recyclable stream.

To complement the current solutions offered by specialist fibre reprocessing facilities, Simply Cups has been investigating alternative options to recover resource from used paper cups. And as a result of a partnership with ashortwalk and Nextek, we now have the ability to compound used paper cups into new polymers, without the need to separate the paper from the plastic lining, that significantly widens the opportunities to manufacture of new functional products from this material.

Simply Cups Process

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Reprocessing

Simply Cups currently has access to the following reprocessing options for used paper cups:

(1) Polymerisation

Simply Cups have partnered with ashortwalk and Nextek to produce and incorporate the use of rCUPTM and the NextCupCycle in the manufacture of new functional products. Both rCUPTM and the NextCupCycle polymer are derived from used paper and plastic (PP) cups.

(2) Fibre Recovery

The paper fibre and polyethylene lining can be separated and recovered by specialist fibre recovery facilities in the UK.

Once baled cups are received by these facilities, the bales are unfastened and inspected for quality. The cups are then separated and subsequently feed loosely up a conveyor belt to be dropped into a pulper.

The cups are pulped with ambient temperature water that separates the polyethylene lining from the paper fibres. The difference in density between the polyethylene and the paper fibre slurry means that the floating polyethylene is skimmed off from the top of the pupler and separated from the denser paper fibre slurry which sinks to the bottom.

The impurities are then removed from the paper fibre slurry, which is subsequently thickened by removing water to the optimum level for storage. The reprocessed paper fibre is then stored in a large tank for use in the manufacture of new products on-site in the adjacent manufacturing facility.

Material Applications

Whilst there is potential in the longer term to approach of incorporating recycled fibres back into the manufacture of new paper cups, the current applications for the material are in the manufacture of other new products, for example:

rCUPTM and NextCupCycle, used to manufacture products under the following categories available in the Simply Cups shop:

  • Office Supplies
  • Café & Barware
  • Promotional Items

Fibre Recovery

  • Primary & Secondary Packaging

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