Paper cups are an indispensable part of modern life, used not only for serving hot beverages but also for ice creams, soups and other food items. They are commonly found in fast food restaurants, large sporting events and music festivals across the world.
Paper cups have grown mainly due to their high biodegradability and convenience. However, the demand for reusable containers is increasing, as consumers seek more sustainable products and practices. Find more printing tech details on Focovir.
A number of companies are developing innovative technologies to reduce pollution in the cup value chain and introduce more environmentally friendly product options. Some focus on replacing the barrier coating with a lining that is made from plant-based materials. Others are trying to create a paper coffee cup that is recyclable or compostable.
Currently, most paper coffee cups are made from coated paperboard stock, which includes either single- or double-walled cupstock. The base board is a nonwoven paperboard substrate that typically has a basis weight of 150 to 350 g/m2. A PE liner is attached to the bottom and sidewalls of the cup stock, usually in single or multiple layers. The PE liner is resistant to water, oil, hot liquids and fatty acids.
These barriers offer a low-cost, lightweight alternative to traditional plastic coatings. They provide thermal insulation, protect against spills, and resist odors. They are typically a single or two-layer coating with a thickness of 20 to 60 mm.
Some barrier coatings are based on acrylate or alkyd resins that can be dispersed in water. They can be applied at lower temperature than conventional emulsion-based coatings, but they require a more advanced coating process to achieve consistent barrier performance and converting performance properties.
Other barrier coatings can be polyurethane or silicone emulsions that are applied to the bottom and sidewalls of the paperboard and then dried, forming a thermoplastic film. These coatings have excellent barrier properties, but they are difficult to produce consistently and commercially, especially with heat sealable barrier requirements.
Another solution is a composite paperboard and polymeric barrier cupstock with a plant-based liner. A liner is generally derived from polylactic acid (PLA) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET is an industrially produced plastic that is readily available and can be recycled in most countries without any problem.
In many countries, including the UK, there is a system of collecting and recycling waste cups for reuse or disposal. These programs are facilitated by residential collection systems and large reprocessing plants.
Several companies, including NatureWorks and Pactiv, are producing single- and double-walled paper coffee cups that are lined with PLA or PE. These cups are sold to retailers and restaurant chains, such as Starbucks, Whole Foods, and McDonald’s.
The development of more sustainable alternatives to paper coffee cups requires a collaborative effort from the entire value chain. Paper coffee cups are a commodity item that must be appropriately disposed of, and the industry needs to work with municipalities, regional communities, and governments to ensure a robust recovery infrastructure is in place. This is critical for meeting consumer demands while ensuring that paper coffee cups are not buried in landfills or incinerated.