More on Recycling Coffee Cups and Cartons

Coffee cups and other “polycoated” containers are accepted in the Recycle BC residential packaging and printed paper recycling program. For many residents, recycling coffee cups and cartons at home is something that was previously unavailable prior to Recycle BC launching its program in May 2014, which may be why we regularly receive questions about them. Below we explain the process in greater detail.

1: The Containers

Coffee cups, ice cream cartons, milk or milk substitute cartons (also known as gable-top cartons), and cartons for soup or broth (also known as aseptic containers because they provide a long-shelf life without refrigeration) are considered polycoat containers because they are constructed from layers of different materials, including paperboard, plastic, and for aseptic containers, aluminum. This packaging is typically used for liquids, but can also be used for some dry goods, such as sugar, and is accepted in the Recycle BC program.

2: Collection

Even though these containers have layers of paper, they are best collected with plastic and metal containers. This is because any leftover liquid can spill out and spoil the recyclability of paper and cardboard.

3: Sorting

After recycling is collected from the curb, multi-family building, or a depot, it is taken to a sorting facility. Here, the different types of materials are separated so that they can be sold to material remanufacturers to recycle them into new packaging or products. Sorting infrastructure in BC is capable of capturing and separating coffee cups and cartons from other containers for recycling. When this packaging comes in as part of the container stream, it can be sorted from other containers and then baled together before being sent to paper mills for recycling.

4: Shredding and Separating the Layers

At the mill, the layers within the cartons and coffee cups need to be further separated before they can be recycled. First, they are shredded, then they enter a “hydropulper”, which agitates the material in a water bath to separate and then filter the layers.

5: Recycling

Coffee cups and cartons captured together can eventually become paper towels, napkins, and bathroom tissue.

So, coffee cups and cartons are welcome additions to your Recycle BC container recycling.