Paper coffee cups stacked for recycling.

A number of major recycled fiber consumers have stated their willingness to accept plastic-lined paper cups in mixed-paper or carton bales. | BublikHaus/Shutterstock

Pratt, Georgia-Pacific, Graphic Packaging International and other paper mill owners have signed a statement affirming that they want plastic-coated paper cups in their feedstock.

Manufacturers of fiber packaging and other paper-based products signed a declaration that they accept paper cups in either mixed-paper bales or in carton bales. The companies signing the declaration were Essity, GP PRO, Graphic Packaging International, Great Lakes Tissue Company, ND Paper, Pratt Industries, Sustana Fiber and WestRock.

According to a press release from the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI), the companies signing on consume about 75% of the mixed paper bales in the U.S. and Canada. 

Paper cups contain plastic linings (usually polyethylene or polylactic acid) to provide liquid barriers, but not all mills are equipped to effectively separate the plastic and recover the fiber pulp. “However, the facilities that signed this declaration are shining a spotlight not only on their ability, but their commitment to accept paper cups,” stated Natha Dempsey, president of FPI, in the release. “We encourage communities and MRFs to connect directly with their end markets and local mills to check if they will accept bales containing paper cups.”

According to an FPI map, the mills accepting poly-coated cups in residential mixed-paper bales (Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Grade 54) include the following: 

  • Essity mills in Baron, Ala.; Menasha, Wis.; Middletown, Ohio; and South Glens Falls, N.Y.
  • Georgia-Pacific in Green Bay, Wis.; and Muskogee, Okla.
  • Graphic Packaging International in Battle Creek, Mich.; East Angus, Quebec; Middletown, Ohio; Kalamazoo, Mich.; 
  • Green Bay Packaging in Green Bay, Wis.
  • ND Paper (sourcing via America Chung Nam) in Fairmont, W.V.
  • Pratt in Conyers, Ga.; Shreveport, La.; Staten Island, N.Y.; Valparaiso, Ind.; and Wapakoneta, Ohio. 
  • WestRock in Aurora, Ill.; Battle Creek, Mich.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Dallas, Texas; Eaton, Ind.; Missisquoi, Vt.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Stroudsburg, Pa.

“Empty paper cups are recyclable, and they provide high-quality fiber, which can then be recycled into new products like cereal cartons, facial tissue boxes and new paper cups,” Michael Doss, president and CEO of Graphic Packaging International, stated in the release. “Graphic Packaging strongly supports recycling of paper cups and is encouraged by the proactive participation of the industry to collect them and increase the circularity of paper cups.”

Additionally, a number of manufacturers also accept ISRI Grade 52 carton bales with paper cups in them:

  • Continuus in Des Moines, Iowa and Philadelphia. 
  • Great Lakes Tissue in Cheboygan, Mich.
  • Sustana in Levis, Quebec and DePere, Wis. 

 “Our investments in specialized equipment allow us to efficiently recover fiber from single-use coffee cups for re-use in premium applications, and we are pleased to support this recycling initiative,” Fabian de Armas, CEO of Sustana, stated in the release. “Increasing the viability and acceptance of paper cup recycling is an important step toward building a circular economy in our markets.”

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