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Disposable cups in vending...Part one

Disposable cups in vending…Part one

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The AVA has been active in encouraging the development of uses for recycled cups and it is clear that all cups currently in use in vending are capable of being recycled.

Vending operators can use cups made from a number of materials; paper, polystyrene, polypropylene and polylactic acid. Paper cups have a coating of polyethylene or polylactic acid.

Polystyrene, polyethylene and polypropylene are currently made from oil. Polystyrene cups used in vending are made from sheets of polystyrene but some catering facilities use expanded polystyrene because of its insulating characteristic.

Paper cups are made from wood pulp extracted by a variety of different processes depending on the country of origin.

Polylactic acid
is currently predominately derived from maize but could be made from a range of natural materials. Polylactic acid is used for cups for cold drinks or as a waterproof coating for paper cups.

All cups sold in the EU must comply with the Materials and Articles in Contact
with Food regulations 2012.

Most vending operators offer a number of options and the choice of cup is made by the client. Often this will involve:
• polystyrene or paper cups used in traditional vending machines.
• paper cups in table top coffee machines.
• polypropylene, polystyrene or paper cups for water.

Companies collecting used cups to be recycled need to provide ways of segregating cups to provide clean waste streams of each type of cup arising from that site. The client also needs to be happy with a number of different collection bins, which tend to be colour coded.

Lessons from the past
For many years members of the AVA funded the collection of polystyrene cups and latterly paper cups through the Save-a-cup scheme. This scheme collected polystyrene cups from sites and supplied them to a company in Leeds for regrinding and reuse. However, it never became self-sufficient because the costs of collection always exceeded the value of the collected plastic. The project demonstrated that the principle cost of recycling is in the collection from the vending site.

In the early days of Save-a-cup, some participating companies asked their operatives to collect cups from customer sites at the end of a service visit. Risks of cross contamination in the vehicle and the accumulation of waste cups on the premises of operating companies quickly stopped this trial. These days an operation of this type would require the operator company to have a waste handling licence.

It was also found that consumers put a range of materials in cups which then had to be decontaminated before they could be recycled.

Vending cups are very light. A polystyrene vending cup weighs roughly 5 grams on average, requiring 200,000 to make a tonne. A paper cup is rather heavier, weighing around 10 grams. Transport over long distances is only efficient in quantities of 20 tonnes, requiring the storage of millions of cups on an intermediate site. At its peak, the Save-a-cup scheme collected around 900 tonnes per year. This represented some 180 million cups but it was a minor contribution to the recycling of polystyrene in the UK.

The unpredictable nature of the supply of recycled material and the changes in market price for recyclate made it difficult to encourage manufacturers to use the material. It is clear that it has to be used either in batch manufacturing operations or in continuous processes which can accept variable amounts of recyclate. The problems of the market are typified by the liquidation of the paper recycling mill in Ashford and of the closing of Boomerang Plastics, the plastic recycling company in Warwick by its parent company Summit Systems.

Part 2 coming next month…

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