Each year in UK more than 2 billions of cups are being thrown away after use.Most of these disposed off cups are then recycled and rest of these dump are left to end up in landfill.Plastic cups are hard to be recycled unlike paper cups thus they end up in landfills.
Although paper cups are said to be 99% recyclable and biodegradable,but said that we must note that recycling the paper cups need some more processes than a normal paper or cardboard product.
As per the rules laid by EU health and safety regulations a coffee cup should have a thin layer of plastic coated to keep coffee warm.
All paper cups produced by printed paper cup are lined with a thin coat of the common plastic or polyethylene ( PE ) to prevent leakage and keep warm things warm.Although all our cups are 100% recyclable and 99% biodegradable,but recycling or re-pulping of these paper cups needs some special techniques than what would have been needed for a normal paper or cardboard cups
In recent times there are some new technologies that are coming up to make these paper cups 100% biodegradable.
A study says that a normal PE coated paper cup takes at least 180 days to get re-pulped or recycled by a commercial compost but when a cup is produced using this new technology it takes less than 40 days to get recycled.
One of these emerging technology is known as EarthCoating®.
EarthCoating® is a highly mineralized resin alternative to traditional polyolefin barrier coatings for paperboard packaging applications such as paper cups, folding cartons, food trays, etc.
How it works:
Calcium Carbonate is blended into polyolefin resin, creating a compound called EarthCoating®, which may be extrusion coated onto various papers and paperboards at high commercial line speeds using existing machinery and without any additional capital investment.(Source)
Our company Printed Paper Cup is now gearing up to implement this mineralised resin alternatives to 100% PE extrusion coating that are 100% biodegradable, these are mixed grade paper barrier alternative to PE and are made of 40% traditional PE resin mixed with 60% Calcium Carbonate, the mixture is blended and can be extruded and coated on any of the paper products like paper cups using the same machinery used in coating 100% PE.
The mineral mixed grade coating fragments into dense particles that are easily removed as part of the recycling process and easily removed as part of the recycling process.
Although mineralised resin like EarthCoating® is considered a safer alternative, but there had been another alternative that existed much ahead of this hybrid solution, and this alternative is not new. It is PLA, Polylactic Acid or more commonly known as Bioplastic.
PLA has seen a variety of industrial and common place applications like medical implants, 3D printing, injection molding, film and sheet casting, and in our industry specific application, extrusion coating.
Although we keep saying that PE is recyclable and it is true that PE doesn't prevent the paper from decomposing, but itself not being biodegradable, if not separated using special processes during recycling, the PE in a natural composting environment like a landfill, would fragment into microscopic fragments instead of actually disintegrating and they retain their character and can result in accumulation of plastic in environment and have serious ecosystem consequences.
Thus, we have finally taken a logical step towards moving from PE to PLA instead of mineralised resin. Although PLA has its own problems of cracking and giving away easiler than PE, and thus providing lower insulation and a slight loss in the leak proof character, it is nevertheless the best bet if we want to keep living on this earth for a few more years.
PLA is compostable and do not require a separation process at recycling plants, and even if the cups end in landfills, there are no chances of microscopic plastic reaching our ecosystem, PLA made from corn starch or sugar cane will easily decompose and degrade into nature.
Regarding issues of strength and insulation of PLA as compared to PE, the modified PLA bio cups have been tested in comparison with traditional PE coated paper cups, and an article on how modern application of PLA performs at par with PE can be found here.