Close
 

New Zealand's great disposable coffee cup conundrum

  • News
  • January 23, 2018
  • Andy Kenworthy
New Zealand's great disposable coffee cup conundrum

It’s 2018, and we’re still having a global debate about single-use, disposable items such as coffee cups, plastic straws, cheap wooden chopsticks, and more. Here in the Land of the Long White Cloud, the issue of what to do with disposable coffee cups – and how to get rid of them without polluting the planet – is burning as hot as ever.

In the UK, MPs are discussing a 25 pence charge for all disposable coffee cups, since just one in about 400 of the cups are recycled. In China, the government has long been in a battle against disposable chopsticks. A number of US and European cities – such as Portland, Oregon and San Francisco – have banned single-use plastic bags. France has gone even further than plastic bags, also banning plastic cups, cutlery and straws – a big deal considering the nation throws away about 150 single-use cups every second (or about 4.73 billion per year).

And New Zealand? The struggle against disposable coffee cups rages on.

Conventional disposable coffee cups can’t be recycled in New Zealand and cause tonnes of waste. New options are coming through, but how do we handle the transition?

The Kiwi love affair with coffee goes back a while. In 1890 ,David Strang of Invercargill held the world’s second patent around the production of instant coffee. Today, according to research from Canstar Blue, New Zealand has the 15th-highest per capita coffee consumption rate in the world. And let’s not forget the argument over whether we’re the creators of the flat white (regardless, we all know Aotearoa is its spiritual home. Sorry not sorry, Australia).

Coffee has also featured at the forefront of sustainable thinking in recent years. Organic and fair trade approaches both gained significant traction in the sector in the early 2000s.

But the Achilles heel for sustainable take-away coffee remains the cup it comes in.

A lot of us might think of a conventional disposable coffee cup as basically a paper cup w ith a plastic lid. Of course, there are the issues of where the wood pulp to make them comes from, which is generally from overseas plantations. And plastic means oil. But at least they should be recyclable, right?

They would be if the paper bit wasn’t lined and bound with polyethylene plastic. This stops it leaking or going soggy. Unfortunately, it also means they can’t be recycled in New Zealand – and nearly all of them end up in landfills.

And it adds up. Someone who consumes five coffees a week can produce about 14 kilogrammes of waste a year.

Compostable cups

Organisations such as Ecoware and Innocent packaging are trying to improve things. They use plant-based bioplastics for the coating and lids instead, which means the whole cup is compostable. This is currently done in commercial composting setups. But recent research shows that some home composting setups can get hot enough to break the cups down.

Kokako café uses Innocent Packaging. Managing director Mike Murphy says: “We researched the market extensively and asked a number of deep questions to potential suppliers around their sourcing protocols and factory conditions where the cups were manufactured.”

Ecoware founder Alex Magaraggia says one of the concerns for commercial compost facilities considering accepting compostable food packaging is the risk of contamination with non-compostable material. “There is one facility I went to north of Sydney that opened itself up to compostable food packaging, and overnight its contamination went up eight percent. That’s huge in a product that is being sold as organic material that is going to enhance your garden. You can’t have little pieces of oil-based plastic in there which aren’t able to be composted.”

In Auckland, Innocent Packaging has partnered with We Compost and Envirofert to take the cups and lids. In Wellington, the company is working with Kai to Compost. Innocent is also exploring opportunities in Napier and Kaikoura.

Other companies are doing things, too. Z Energy sells 4.5 million takeaway coffees a year, and has now begun switching to compostable cups. Crucially, Z is also setting up its own cup collection points at its service stations, as for a cup to be genuinely compostable, it has to get to one of those composting facilities. 

Paul Evans from waste industry body WasteMINZ describes the challenges: “Most things can be recycled in theory,” he says. “But ultimately it comes down to whether they are economically viable to recycle and if infrastructure is available in the specific region.”

Reusable cups

Of course, just using reusable cups is another option. Australian reusable cup manufacturer Keep Cup reckons this can eliminate the waste. They claim it halves the carbon emissions and energy use. It cuts about two-thirds of the water use in a year’s five-a-week coffee habit. But other studies say you need to be reusing your cup consistently for several years to overcome the extra environmental cost of making it.

This doesn’t play well against the inconsistency and opportunism of most people’s behaviour. Before founding Innocent, Tony Small ran a reusable cup company. He found that like most sustainability options, if it isn’t convenient, it doesn’t catch on. “The simple fact is that reusable coffee cups just aren’t having the impact we need to see,” he says. “I noticed friends, family and customers would stop using the reusable cups about eight to 12 weeks in.”

Shifting to more sustainable disposables

It seems clear that disposables are here to stay. So what can we do to speed up the shift to making them sustainable?

Small agrees with Magaraggia in the belief that the link with the composting industry is key. “We need organic collections and certification around compostable products,” he says. “The composting industry is where recycling was 15 years ago. There are too many products claiming to be biodegradable when they aren’t. These products could really damage the industry and waste streams. It’s vital certification is in place. This will make sure only 100% certified compostable plant-based products are ending up in organic collections.”

Others have suggested attempting to price unsustainable options out of the market. Almost nine percent of the price of a $4 takeaway coffee is the cost of the cup.

Kokako’s Murphy is not keen: “I think education is key. We’d be better to educate other consumers that they are part of the solution. It is always the consumer’s choice where they buy their coffee and how they take it away, whether that be in a compostable or re-usable cup.”

WasteMINZ’s Evans says it could have its place. “Price signals can be incredibly effective,” he says. “We have seen this in the UK, where plastic bag charges have reduced usage by some 85 percent. Reduction is right at the top of the waste hierarchy, so that’s brilliant.

“But I think we always need to think of interventions in a cohesive way. Sometimes there can be unintended consequences. From my perspective if you were going to look at a charge, then at the same time consider a transition to all cups being compostable. This would mean those that are still disposed of could be treated in a uniform way. You’d also need to consider how to build capacity in the composting sector and develop end markets for the resulting compost.”

Magaraggia would go further, reckoning that something like France’s laws would be something Aotearoa would do well to emulate. “There are sustainable alternatives out there. Using non-renewable materials to make these products is crazy. We are seeing more and more smart ideas coming forward for end-of-life options.

“If we had a ban then we would be able to introduce kerbside collection on organic waste that could accept the cups. At the moment where there is kerbside collection there are bylaws so you can’t put in any kind of packaging. This is because of contamination.

“Right now, Joe Bloggs consumer doesn’t know whether the cup he is holding is compostable or not. There are companies claiming biodegradability for oil-based plastic with an additive. Those products can’t be composted. When Joe Bloggs consumer sees it says biodegradable it is likely to end up in the organic waste bin.

“A levy won’t help that much if you still have oil-based products that end up in the wrong bin and contaminate the system.”  

Evans says there is a simple solution – but one that might require a significant mindset change among many consumers. “The ultimate solution is to get up five minutes early and have your coffee in a porcelain cup at your favourite café!”

Originally from Idealog, portions of this story first appeared on the website of the Sustainable Business Network.

​ ​

This is a community discussion forum. Comment is free but please respect our rules:

  1. Don’t be abusive or use sweary type words
  2. Don’t break the law: libel, slander and defamatory comments are forbidden
  3. Don’t resort to name-calling, mean-spiritedness, or slagging off
  4. Don’t pretend to be someone else.

If we find you doing these things, your comments will be edited without recourse and you may be asked to go away and reconsider your actions.
We respect the right to free speech and anonymous comments. Don’t abuse the privilege.

 

Hunting & Fishing New Zealand voluntarily pulls military-style assault weapons from sale

  • News
  • March 20, 2019
  • Sarah Dunn
Hunting & Fishing New Zealand voluntarily pulls military-style assault weapons from sale

In the wake of the attack on Christchurch’s Muslim community on March 15, strong calls for changes to New Zealand’s gun last have been made. Trade Me was the first retailer to act, halting the sale of all semi-automatic weapons on its platform, and it has now been joined by Hunting & Fishing New Zealand.

Read more
 
 

Superette to open new concept store showcasing international brands

  • News
  • March 20, 2019
  • The Register team
Superette to open new concept store showcasing international brands

Apparel boutique Superette has announced it will open an ‘international flagship’ in Newmarket on April 4. The store will feature handpicked products from both established and emerging international designers.

Read more
 
 

What businesses can do to help support Christchurch and the Muslim community this week

  • Opinion
  • March 19, 2019
  • Rosie Collins
What businesses can do to help support Christchurch and the Muslim community this week

As many New Zealanders go back to work for the first time today since Friday’s attacks, feelings of anger, sadness, numbness, apprehension, and confusion will be shared around the country. Rosie Collins is the managing director of Step Changers, a registered charity working to normalise corporate social responsibility in New Zealand. In the wake of the Christchurch terror attack, she shares three ways businesses can help both their staff and the wider Muslim and Christchurch community this week.

Read more
 

Social scoreboard

Zavy and The Register have worked together to create a scoreboard that compares how the top 25 traditional media advertising spenders in New Zealand have performed on social media over the past 30 days, updated in real time.

 
topics
Concept to closet
Business coverage of New Zealand Fashion Week.
Town centres
A positive retail environment over the past 12 ...
Amazon Arrival
Keeping up with all things Amazon as it ...
The Retail Yearbook 2017
As we battle our way through the busiest ...
Hospitality enhancing retail
Some think food and integrated hospitality offerings will ...
The future is bright
We spoke with four retailers in their twenties ...
Spotlight on signage
At first glance, the humble in-store sign might ...
Red Awards 2016
The Red Awards for retail interior design celebrate ...
Auckland Unitary Plan
Auckland is changing. The Unitary Plan will decide ...
How to open a store
Sarah Dunn considers what it would take to ...
All things to all people
Kiwi retailers share their omnichannel strategies.
Rising stars
Retail's top young achievers.
Delivering on your promises
The sale isn't over until your item is ...
Retail in heartland New Zealand
Retailers keep the regions pumping, but how strong ...
Sisterhood
Women in retail help one another. We spoke ...
The changing face of retail
Shifting demographics are creating big changes in New ...
The retail yearbook
With the help of experts in the retail ...
Retail rogues
We put the spotlight on staff training. Jai ...
Here come the giants
Topshop has arrived in Auckland’s CBD, David Jones ...
Window shopping: A spotlight on social media
Sarah Dunn and Elly Strang look at how ...
From retail to e-tail
Ecommerce has become part of the way mainstream ...
Loyalty in the digital age
How are retailers maintaining loyalty? Sarah Dunn, Elly ...
The Innovators | In partnership with Spark Business
Technology is rapidly changing the retail industry as ...
 

China and New Zealand’s year of tourism

  • Opinion
  • March 19, 2019
  • Juanita Neville-Te Rito
China and New Zealand’s year of tourism

Think about how to best welcome Chinese tourists into your store this year.

Read more
 
 

Coca-Cola reveals how much plastic it uses

  • News
  • March 19, 2019
  • Radio New Zealand
Coca-Cola reveals how much plastic it uses

For the first time, Coca-Cola has revealed it used three million tonnes of plastic packaging in one year.

Read more
 

Profits for The Warehouse on the rise after restructure

  • News
  • March 19, 2019
  • Radio New Zealand
Profits for The Warehouse on the rise after restructure

The Warehouse has made a solid first half profit as it continues to restructure and invest in digital services.

Read more
 
Next page
Results for
Topics
Jobs
About us.

The Register provides essential industry news and intelligence, updated daily. And the digital newsletter delivers the latest news to your inbox twice a week — for free!

©2009–2015 Tangible Media. All rights reserved.
Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Privacy policy.

Advertise
The Register

editor@theregister.co.nz

Content marketing/advertising? Email anita.hayhoe@icg.co.nz or call 022 639 3004

View Media Kit

}