UK paper company James Cropper has developed technology that enables the recycling of disposable coffee cups into high-quality paper products. Last week, the company opened a £5m reclaimed fibre plant using this technology at its production mill in Kendal, Cumbria, which was inaugurated by the Queen and the Princess Royal, Kate Middleton.
In the UK alone, an estimated 2.5 billion paper cups go to landfill. Until now, the plastic content of cups has made them unsuitable for use in papermaking — disposable cups are made of up to 95% high-strength paper with a 5% thin coating of polyethylene; James Cropper's recycling technology separates out the plastic, leaving paper pulp that can be used to make paper.
After four years of development, James Cropper can now not only recycle the fibre content in cup waste but also recycle the plastic coating, giving a sustainable solution to the global problem of disposable cup waste. The process involves softening the cup waste in a warmed solution, separating the plastic coating from the fibre. The plastic is skimmed off, pulverised and recycled, leaving water and pulp. Impurities are filtered out leaving high-grade pulp suitable for use in luxury papers and packaging materials.
"Cup waste is a rich source of high-grade pulp fibre, but until now the plastic content made this product a contaminant in paper recycling,” Mark Cropper, chairman of James Cropper plc, told the Guardian. “Our technology changes that and also addresses a major environmental waste problem and accompanying legislation. We are greatly honoured that Her Majesty the Queen and The Princess Royal are joining us on the occasion of our new plant opening."
Chief executive Phil Wild said: "This is the latest in a long history of innovation that has kept James Cropper ahead of the game for nearly 170 years and six generations. We [are] today the preferred choice for packaging of numerous global luxury brands, from fashion houses and champagne producers, such as Krug, to smartphone giants and department stores such as Selfridges.
"We were also a pioneer in the production of paper-like non-woven materials from carbon and other fibres. Today these are used in industries as diverse as US defence programmes to the latest composite cars and aeroplanes. Cropper is also leading on sustainability in these fields by utilising recycled carbon fibre — another world-first that is gaining us attention."
James Cropper isn’t the only UK company using impressive innovations to get the most out of paper products: Seacourt, a small printing company based in Oxford, uses almost no water, produces zero waste and is carbon-neutral — impressive accomplishments in an industry that traditionally uses copious amounts of water and toxic chemicals in its processes. The company has won two Queens Awards for Sustainable Development, the latest in 2011.