Are Paper Cups Recyclable?
Paper cups can be recycled, and a number of leading cities are successfully recovering paper cups in their residential recycling programs. Some examples are New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Chattanooga, Louisville, and Denver. The Paper Cup Alliance is working to increase paper cup recycling in the US.
All recycling depends on end markets for the materials. Paper cups are made from fiber that is desirable to paper recycling mills. However, not all mills are able to separate the plastic coating found on cups that is used to prevent liquid from leaking out or soaking through the paper. The good news is that a growing number of mills can accept and process poly-coated cups when included in existing bales such as Sorted Office Paper (SOP), Residential Mixed Paper (RMP) and Cartons (Grade 52). A list of these mills can be found below in the Resources section. We are actively engaged with other mills to determine if they can successfully process cups.
How to Recycle Paper Cups
Check with your local recycling program. If paper cups are accepted, be sure your cup is empty before placing in your recycling bin or cart.
Check with your MRF to find out if they will accept paper cups. You may discover that you can easily add them to your program.
Be sure to educate your residents if you add them to your program. A best practice is to include images of clean paper cups without lids, straws or liquid. See below for graphics and other communications resources.
Check with your end market(s) to see if the mills can accept paper cups in their bales. Looking for an end market? Check out our resources section below.
If you are considering accepting bales with paper cups, see below for a list of frequently asked questions. Contact us for more information or assistance with sourcing material for testing in your mill.
Find End Markets
The number of mills accepting paper cups is growing. Download a list of confirmed markets for paper cups. You can also explore FPI’s interactive end markets map to see which markets accept paper cups and other types of foodservice packaging in each commodity.
Info for Mills
For recovered fiber mills considering accepting bales with paper cups, check out this list of frequently asked questions.
Communications Resources for Communities
Read more about mills that are recovering paper cups in "Promising Pathways".
To hear from a community on how they successfully added cups to their program, listen to FPI's 2015 webinar "To Throw or Not to Thrown In: Paper Cup Recycling." Hear from even more communities in FPI's 2018 webinar "Residue to Recovery: Increasing Recycling Opportunities for Foodservice Packaging".
About the Paper Cup Alliance
In 2018, the Paper Cup Alliance (PCA) was founded to accelerate the adoption of paper cup recycling in the U.S. The PCA supports a market-based recovery system by aligning supply chain recovery partners, promoting development of the processing infrastructure, development of end markets for recovered materials, and educating and engaging stakeholders to increase recovery. To learn more, or to join the PCA, please contact recycleFSP@fpi.org.