New Hanover County, N.C. will send paper cups to Sonoco’s recently upgraded paper mill in Hartsville, S.C. | Courtesy of Sonoco

A packaging industry group, local governments and a paper mill operator are working together to bring curbside paper cup recycling to programs throughout the Carolinas. 

The Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) announced the plan to add paper cups to residential recycling programs in North Carolina and South Carolina. According to a press release, the first phase will bring cup recycling to New Hanover County, N.C., which sends its recyclables to Sonoco Recycling. Sonoco’s Hartsville, S.C. paper mill will recycle the fiber. 

“This recycling initiative in North Carolina and South Carolina represents a significant milestone in the advancement of sustainability and recycling efforts,” Natha Dempsey, FPI’s president, stated in the release. “Our team has worked closely with stakeholders in both states, and we are thrilled to witness the realization of this initiative. This is the initial phase of our roll-out plan, and we plan to extend our collaboration with counties and cities across the Carolinas.” 

Paper coffee cups are made with high-quality virgin fiber, but not all paper mills can efficiently recycle them because they are made with a plastic lining to keep the cups from breaking down when they’re filled with liquid. 

The initiative, which includes partnering with local communities to launch educational campaigns about cup acceptance, officially kicked off March 29 at the Carolina Recycling Association (CRA) conference. 

Two years ago, a number of paper product manufacturers publicly reaffirmed they accept paper cups in incoming bales of post-consumer fiber, but at the time, Sonoco wasn’t on that list. Last year, however, Sonoco announced it would begin accepting paper cups in mixed-paper bales heading to its Hartsville mill, and that mill is now on an updated list of mills that accept paper cups.

The Hartsville mill has undergone significant work in recent years as part of Sonoco’s $125 million Project Horizon, which converted a corrugated medium machine to producing up to 180,000 tons of low-cost uncoated recycled paperboard (URB) a year. 

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