13.2 C
Byron Shire
July 15, 2024

Localising the War on Coffee Waste

Latest News

Ballina mayor vies for second term ‘leading the rebuild’

Ballina Shire’s mayoral race this September looks to be a competition between two women, one progressive, the other conservative, after both candidates announced campaigns last week.

Other News

72 house-raises and retrofits announced  

Seventy-two homeowners in the Ballina electorate will receive government funding to raise and retrofit their flood-affected homes, says local NSW Greens MP, Tamara Smith. 

Losing town water access

I grew up and live in Mullumbimby, and I know locals have a strong opinion about the Byron Shire...

A fairytale end to Skullcandy Oz Grom Open

Organisers of the Skullcandy Oz Grom Open say yesterday's final event was a fairytale finish to the competition with...

Tweed River dredging in July

Dredging to the entrance of the Tweed River will begin this month as part of the Tweed Sand Bypassing...

New music festival for Mullum

Esteemed musician and founder of the Nimbin Roots Festival, Lou Bradley, is bringing a new musical venture to the heart of Mullumbimby. The inaugural Mullum Roots Festival is scheduled to take place in July 2025, promising a vibrant celebration of music, community, and sustainability.

Mullum Rotary celebrates 75

On Saturday, June 22, Mullumbimby Rotary celebrated their 75th anniversary.

By Vivienne Pearson

Just in case you didn’t catch the coffee-cup segment of ABC television’s War on Waste series, here is the major point it made: Australians dispose of more than one billion single-use coffee cups every year (that’s more than 50,000 every half hour). Shocked? Read on to find out more, including the local state of play.

a. Coffee cup logo on a Byron bin

The local lowdown

The War on Waste stated that coffee cups are not being recycled anywhere in Australia. They added the proviso that recycling options vary across council areas.

Byron Shire Council was quick to respond to the coffee-cup segment of War on Waste by saying that in this region single-use coffee cups are being recycled. Byron Council even have an image of a coffee cup on yellow bins in the community.

The reason that coffee-cup recycling is not straightforward is that the cups are not just paper (as they seem); they are lined with plastic. Separating the two materials is not straightforward.

Our recycling waste goes to the Lismore Recycling and Recovery Centre for sorting (joined by waste from Ballina, Lismore and Richmond councils). ‘It’s a fantastic facility,’ says Lucy Wilson, Byron’s resource recovery education officer, who emphasises that anyone who questions the council over transporting their waste to Lismore is missing the point – sharing resource-intense facilities like this is part of the solution, not the problem.

Back to the cups, she says, via a Byron Shire Council Facebook post: ‘Paper pulp makes up 95 per cent of the cup which is recyclable. The other five per cent plastic coating is waste and unfortunately becomes landfill.’

The cups are not actually recycled in Lismore. According to Lismore Council, they are baled up with all other paper recyclable waste and transported to a facility in Brisbane before being shipped overseas to be recycled.

I was unable to find out any information about what happens once the waste leaves Lismore. The team from Lismore Council tell me that they are currently seeking these details.

Composting is the other potential option for single-use coffee cups. This seems like a perfect solution – I like the idea of our cups returning to the soil to fuel new plant growth – but Byron and Lismore councils both tell me that currently even cups claiming to be biodegradable can’t be dealt with via our green-bin system. I was surprised to hear this, as will the local cafes listed opposite who are also under the impression (understandably) that the cups they use are compostable.

‘The majority of the companies currently producing ‘compostable’ coffee cups do not meet Australian standards. We currently do not accept them in our green organic bins as they could jeopardise the organic certification,’ says Danielle Hanigan, business development coordinator at Lismore City Council.

Don’t stress if you’ve been putting so-called compostable lids in the green bin up until now. ‘Small quantities are okay at the moment,’ says Lucy Wilson. ‘We screen our compost,’ adds Danielle Hanigan.

The councils estimate that the changes needed for this to happen in larger quantities will occur by November 2017. Perfect timing for cafes to be able to investigate this option between now and then, perhaps?

So the message? If you use a single-use cup, tip out any remaining liquid (no need to rinse) and pop cups and lids into the yellow bin. And the ultimate solution? Take your own cup to your favourite cafe!

b. Coffee cup options

Coffee-Cup Culture

Part of the solution will be a change in our strong culture of walking around with takeaway coffee cups. Let’s face it – it is currently seen as cool to be clutching a warming beverage, whether heading into a meeting, going for your morning walk, hopping in your car before a long (or not so long) drive, or picking up your kids from school.

A similar change has already happened with plastic bags. In the 1980s, toting a cloth bag was seen as daggy and clutching a fist-full of plastic was cool. Now it is the reverse. We need a change of culture to where someone walking around with a single-use cup is subject to sideways glances rather than longing looks.

One friend feels that we need to move back to the Italian roots of our coffee culture – a country where people stand at a bar to down an espresso – and take a moment to relax, rather that hurrying away with our caffeine in a single-use cup.

d. Cup Washing Station at Mullum FM

Forgot your cup? 

One of the big issues with encouraging reusable cups is the human factor. We are all prone to forgetting to take our reusable cup, going somewhere without a bag big enough to carry one, or suddenly needing a coffee now!

Responding to this problem locally are three similar initiatives:

Boomerang Cups: As an added boost to Mullumbimby’s Plastic Free July, Mullum Cares is introducing Boomerang Cups. The idea is for cafes to have stocks of pre-loved mugs that customers can use when they forget their reusable cups. Mullum Cares are seeking donations of mugs (you know the ones at the back of your cupboard that haven’t been used for years!) – large ones preferred to help with spillage minimisation. You can drop them off at Flash Computers, Stuart’s Menswear, Urban Archaeology or Made in Mullum (keep up to date with other locations and participating cafes via Facebook: @MullumCares).

TipCup: The Top Shop in Byron Bay have instigated a similar idea, calling it TipCups. They source secondhand mugs and have a creative system – you buy the cup for 50¢ and then receive a 50¢ discount on the coffee that gets made in it. As Top Shop is one of the many food businesses in the Shire that operate within the strict framework of a takeaway food business licence (so can’t serve sit-down coffee), this initiative is Top Shop’s way of reducing their environmental impact. Says Charlie Gordon of Top Shop: ‘Our reports show our customers have presented their own cup at the register more than 5,000 times this year so far. This rate is increasing fast, and the TipCup initiative has been a big driver of this.’

Topless for the Sea: Plastic Free Byron and the Byron Mermaids are providing crates stocked with reusable op shop mugs to use – so far at Sparrow, Leaf and Grain, and Seabones. If someone is keen on a single-use cup, the Byron Mermaids are going ‘Topless for the Sea’ to encourage everyone to ‘go topless’ and skip the plastic lid.

Santos tosses out disposable coffee cups

Local not-for-profit Santos Organics plans to cease serving disposable coffee cups in all of its stores by the end of July.

According to general manager Michael Lyon: ‘It’s time we take individual and collective responsibility for our lifestyle choices. This includes ditching single-use products such as takeaway cups, which have become Australia’s second-largest litter item. As an environmental charity, Santos takes seriously its position as a leader on sustainability. We encourage all community members to purchase a reusable cup at one of the many Byron Shire cafes providing them during July in preparation for this change.’

REminder RE: other REs

While it’s great that there is a focus on whether or not coffee cups can be recycled, it’s worth REmembering that REcycling should be a last resort rather than a first-line solution.

As you will see from the chain of processes that a coffee cup needs to go through before being recycled (your bin to a truck to Lismore, through the Material Recovery Facility, trucked to Brisbane and then shipped overseas and, at some point in there, having the plastic lining removed from the paper), recycling involves a huge input of resources.

Other REs to try before RElying on REcycling are:





(and, for things other than coffee cups: REpair, REmake, REpair).

REspect to http://www.greenpeace.org.au/blog/beyond-reduce-reuse-recycle/#.WUxy_cZ7HEY for some of these REs.

And the gong doesn’t go to…

One initiative (not a local one, thanks) that doesn’t deserve a gong is the ‘Pioneer Nespresso Livanto Limited Edition’. The casing of this Swiss Army knife is made from … wait for it …  recycled coffee-pod capsules. Given how much waste is created by the aluminium coffee pods and how few would be used for each knife, I think I’ll give this ‘coveted collector’s item’ (according to the press release) a miss.


Tips for minimising your coffee waste

Get a reusable cup and take advantage of discounts offered by cafes

Don’t buy another resuable cup every time you forget yours or decide you’d like a new colour – far more resources go into making reusable cups than single-use ones, so having a collection sitting unused in your cupboard does nothing to help the environment.

Try out local initiatives such as TipCup and Boomerang Cup.

If you use a single-use cup:

Say No to a lid if you don’t absolutely need one 

Preference plain over highly printed single-use cups. Why throw out all that ink as well as paper?

Empty any remaining liquid out (no need to rinse) and place the cup and lid in the yellow recycling bins.

Put any coffee grounds from making coffee at home into the green bin.

Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Tweed boating trip turns fatal

A boating venture on the Tweed River ended in tragedy on Saturday when the vessel capsized and a passenger died.

Two in hospital, including officer, after perilous arrest

A Northern Rivers man wanted for arrest and an officer trying to arrest him are both in hospital after a disastrous encounter in the early hours of the morning.

Federal Labor funds Mullum hospital site masterplan  

A $263,000 federal grant has been awarded to Byron Shire Council for a masterplan and development strategy for the former Mullumbimby Hospital site.

Paddle-out for innovative shaper, Geoff McCoy

There are shapers and there are shapers.  Geoff McCoy was our local eminent, and world-recognised, master surfboard shaper. I call this gaggle of exclusive surfboard...