You have found yourself with a 'compostable' coffee cup ... but how do you compost it? Unfortunately, putting it in general waste doesn’t mean it’ll be composted.
Coffee cups cannot be recycled in kerbside, home or office recycling bins, which means that unfortunately, more than 1 billion are sent to landfills each year by Australians. Compostable coffee cups were created to combat this; however, it is not a practical solution.
We recommend that you return your coffee cup to one of our Simply Cups collection locations, as we accept both home and commercially compostable cups. Read on for more.
What does ‘compostable’ mean?
‘Compostable’ in general means that the product will break down naturally without any toxic or damaging residue for the environment. There are two different types of compostable cups – ‘home’ and ‘commercially’ compostable - and they have a different set of circumstances under which they break down. You can read more about commercial vs. home compostable here.
It should be noted that 'biodegradable' is different to 'compostable'. Biodegradable refers to breaking down over an unspecified period of time; technically, everything is biodegradable.
Commercially compostable cups break down when taken to a dedicated commercial
composting facility. Most of these facilities use a mix of microorganisms, ideal temperatures, oxygen levels, nutrient ratios and moisture to break the cups down.
There are several certification bodies which carry out testing on the compostability of a product. Australian products should be tested and certified against the Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA) as this body considers Australian settings.
If a product is certified commercial compostable by the ABA it is proven to break down completely after 12 weeks in a commercial facility.
Home compostable cups break down when composted in a home compost such as worm farm, garden bed or traditional compost. Home compostable environments need to have ideal microorganisms, temperatures, oxygen levels, nutrient ratios and moisture to break the cups down.
If a product is certified home compostable by the ABA it is proven to break down completely after 12 weeks in a home compostable environment with no toxic effect to compost, plants or earthworms.
Biodegradable / Not compostable:
Be very wary when looking at your cup and the correct way to dispose of it. Some cups may have a mobius loop or say ‘biodegradable’ with no logo, certifications or explanations.
How to correctly dispose of compostable coffee cups:
Firstly, check if the coffee cup is labelled:
How it is labelled will dictate how you can safely compost your coffee cup.
How to correctly dispose of commercially compostable coffee cups.
Commercially compostable cups can only be responsibly composted if they go to a dedicated commercial composting facility (CCF). Few councils in Australia collect certified compostable products in their FOGO (food organics garden organics) bins along with food waste.
In fact, the NSW EPA stopped councils from collecting compostable packaging in FOGO bins (apart from compostable liners) due to the processing difficulties they were experiencing at the sites. You can check if your council accepts compostable packaging as part of their FOGO bin program here.
If a commercially compostable cup does end up in the street or landfill, they will not break down. They can pollute our waterways and contaminate other waste streams.
We recommend that you return your commercially compostable cup to one of our Simply Cups collection locations. We accept home and commercial compostable cups in our recycling program.
How to correctly dispose of home compostable coffee cups.
Home compostable cups can only be responsibly composted if they go into a home composting environment such as a worm farm or traditional compost.
The home compost must have ideal microorganisms, temperatures, oxygen levels, nutrient ratios and moisture to break the cups down.
Similar to commercially compostable cups, if a home compostable cup does end up in the street or landfill, they will not break down - they will also become a pollutant.
If you do not have a home compost, we recommend that you return your home compostable cup to one of our Simply Cups collection locations.
Cup in home compost
How to correctly dispose of biodegradable coffee cups.
A biodegradable cup without any other information on it's compostability or safe disposal is a form of greenwashing.
Without accurate information on the type of compostability, you cannot compost the cup safely.
We recommend that you return your biodegradable cup to one of our Simply Cups collection locations. We accept all paper-based cups in our recycling program.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed? The easiest way to avoid not recycling or composting paper cups correctly is to not use single-use at all. There’s a wide range of brands of reusable cups available from many outlets such as our rCUPs which are made from recycled coffee cups!
Or, if you’re not on the go, sit in at a café and enjoy your tea/coffee in a mug.