Can you recycle coffee cups in Canberra?

Can coffee cups be recycled in Canberra?

It’s a question Curious Canberra has been overwhelmed with in recent months.

And with about a billion disposable cups sold in Australia a year, garbage tips are being overwhelmed too.

The simple answer: It’s complicated.

The ACT Government told Canberrans in July that despite claims made on the ABC’s War on Waste program, coffee cups can actually be recycled in Canberra.

A spokesperson for the city services directorate told us that “the ACT currently recycles disposable coffee cups at the ACT Co-mingled Materials Recovery Facility. [It] accepts cardboard-based coffee cups where they are baled and sent to Visy’s mill in Tumut for processing”.

Tips to reduce coffee cup landfill

Tips to reduce coffee cup landfill:

  • Don’t take away — drink your coffee from ceramic cups at the cafe
  • Bring your own reusable cup
  • Refuse a lid — if you don’t need the lid don’t take one
  • Choose a cup made from rapidly renewable resources and separate the lid from the cup when disposing of the rubbish

But this is where it gets tricky.

When a few Canberrans contacted Visy, they were told: “We are unable to recycle coffee cups due to we haven’t got the technology yet for separation [sic] of paper and wax plastic.”

When that issue was raised on the ACT Government’s Facebook page, they responded that it would be investigated.

“We take the issues raised to this post very seriously and have approached Visy for a response to the alleged contradictions in terms of recycling advice. We will share what we learn and respond in due course,” they wrote.

The city services directorate did not answer our question on whether its investigation was completed.

But they did offer this advice: “The best thing for ACT residents to do is avoid the use of disposal coffee cups entirely. Whilst the ACT MRF will accept cardboard based coffee cups it is well known that the plastic lining in some cups presents recycling challenges.”

In light of the confusion, many cafes in and around Canberra have decided to take the matter into their own hands.

Giving up the cup

Mark Ramsay, co-owner of Frankie’s at Forde, wonders whether we need take away coffee at all.

“There are countries all over the world where takeaway coffee isn’t even a thing,” Mark said.

Frankie’s made its decision to give up the disposable coffee cup in June — a decision that will save about 45,000 cups from landfill.

“[That’s] a whole lot of waste going to landfill that really we think didn’t need to,” Mark said.

He said the business got a few walk-outs a week, but “out in the ‘burbs” most of their customers are regulars, and they’re all on board.

“We’re happy that we’re doing the right thing … and that’s certainly outweighing the one or two people who walk out without a coffee disappointed with our standards,” he said.

Of course anyone with a reusable cup can still get takeaway coffee, but Mark said coffee should be taken as a chance to slow down.

“It just doesn’t have to be that way, especially when the by-product of that is so much unnecessary waste,” he said.

Country cafe scouts out old mugs

Collector in NSW is just on the other side of the ACT border.

It’s a village of wine and pottery — and once a year it swells with crowds coming for the pumpkin festival.

At Some Cafe (yes, that’s its name) owners Lucy Stevens and Ollie Chiswell wanted a coffee cup solution that visitors could afford.

“We ordered our keep cups, but the keep cups were going crazy with the War on Waste, and they said delivery is three months away,” Lucy said.

“So in the meantime, and it’s actually working better than the keep cups, we went to loads of Vinnies [and] gathered loads of cool mugs that looked a bit crazy, a bit country bumpkin-style.

“Then it’s $5 for a coffee and a cup and people take that away instead of a coffee cup.”

The pair adopted almost 100 mugs, and it’s taken off so well that they only have a handful left.

“Hospitality is such a hard industry, with plastic. You’ve really got to hassle your suppliers, ‘we don’t need [that] plastic, please’.”

Kingston cafe offers temporary cups

On the shore of Lake Burley Griffin is Organic Bean Cafe, a tiny shop run by Misty Taylor.

It’s a popular spot for walking, especially on weekends, and Misty saw that as an opportunity to save a few cups from landfill.

She’s been offering walkers reusable cups that they can return when they’re done.

“We have a couple of people every day who do it,” Misty said.

Misty has another cup-saving operation underway: since June, she’s been tallying the number of cups saved from landfill by people who bring in their own reusable cups.

“It gives customers a visual on what they’re doing,” she said.

“[And] the amount of people that bring in cups is probably tenfold, from before War on Waste.

“It’s so easy. It’s just a little thing we can do to make a massive difference.”