For many, the disposable coffee cup is the poster image for the waste scourge, used once, not recyclable, ending their short lives in landfill dumps, or in an incinerator. In all, they amount to just 1 per cent of packaging waste, but two million of them are dumped, according to Minister for Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten, who has sought ways in recent months to curb their use.
For Naughten, the Ennis-based Cup Print, a custom paper cup printing and design technology company, can play a leading role in helping the public to find better habits.
Cup Print produces the Vegware compostable cup. Recently, it introduced two new revolutionary eco-friendly product offerings – the reCup and the soon-to-be-available Frugalpac cup.
The Vegware cup is almost a decade old, and is environmentally-friendly because its outer lining is from a compostable bio-coating instead of the typical polyethylene coating.
Today, Vegware accounts for 30 per cent of Cup Print’s sales, up 37 per cent year-on-year. Last year, it produced 200 million coffee cups. Eighty per cent were exported.
Last October, Cup Print added the reCup, which has a calcium carbonate resin coating that can be easily separated by recycling firms. Panda accepts the cup in its green bins.
"It looks the same, works the same, and is made the same way as traditional coated paper cups with the only exception being that the coating formulation has changed to Earthcoating," explains Cup Print chief executive Terry Fox – his company is the first manufacturer in Europe to offer the reCup product.
In December, it began test production of the Frugalpac cup, which is made from recycled cardboard and therefore can be recycled repeatedly – a global first.
Saying that Cup Print currently employs 110 people, Fox believes Ireland is in a good position to move to plastic-free, fully recyclable coffee cup – without the need for taxes, or levies.
Meanwhile, Down2Earth Materials in Cork and the Zeus Group in Rathcoole, Co Dublin, also supply compostable cups to environmentally-conscious Irish customers.
Bewley’s has become the first Irish company to launch a range of 100 per cent compostable coffee capsules – a means of getting a caffeine-hit that is now the favourite of millions.
However as convenient as these capsules are in Nespresso machines, or their equivalents, they come with a cost to the environment due to un-recyclable packaging.
Three years ago, the former Nespresso chief executive Jean-Paul Gaillard warned it was time for coffee-drinkers to think about the price of convenience.
“It will be a disaster and it’s time to move on that. People shouldn’t sacrifice the environment for convenience,” he said.
While the global coffee market is growing at 1.6 per cent year-on-year, sales of capsule-delivered coffee are growing at almost 15 per cent year-on-year.
Bewley’s moved to tackle this growing environmental problem by creating a new range of 100 per cent compostable capsules that can be dropped into organic recycling (brown) bins.
Most other coffee capsules that are currently on the market are made from a combination of plastic and aluminium and are not biodegradable.
Made from renewable raw materials, Bewley’s capsules, which cost from €3.59 for packs of eight capsules, break down in 12 weeks into CO2, water and compost.
Apart from less packaging than its previous capsule range, the new Bewleys capsules require less energy to make, and create fewer greenhouse gases.
“As an Irish family company originally founded on Quaker principles, we remain committed to ethical business practices and the development of long-term sustainable solutions,” says Bewley’s head of marketing Laura McDonnell.
Coffee pods –convenience at a cost
Coffee-pod consumption is the ultimate marker for western societies: the best markets for Nespresso and its ilk are found in western Europe, Australasia and North America.
Sales in the UK grew by double-digit figures in 2016, with pods becoming increasingly popular at home with people who started drinking them in restaurants.
The only other significant markets are the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Israel. Brazil is expected to join "the pod club" shortly.
However, they have have developed a negative image because of the impact they can have on the environment – which has led to opposition in some quarters.
In Germany, Hamburg banned coffee pods and other disposable coffee products from all of its local governmental buildings three years ago, believing they were an unacceptable contributor to waste.
"The capsules can't be recycled easily because they are often made of a mixture of plastic and aluminium," said Hamburg Department of the Environment and Energy official, Jan Dube
The complexity of the non-recyclable versions – a mix of plastic and aluminium, along with coffee dregs at the bottom of the pod, make them difficult to recycle in most recycling plants.
Apart from anything else, Hamburg had problems with the concept: “It’s 6g of coffee in 3g of packaging,” says Dube. “We in Hamburg thought that these shouldn’t be bought with taxpayers’ money.”