A greener cup of joe – thanks to a truly recyclable paper cup

Technology |  < 1 min. read

Ever get a cup of coffee to go?

You’ve got plenty of company if your answer was yes.

So much company in fact, that here in the U.S., we go through more than 50 BILLION paper cups every year – which makes for a very big pile.

Not all of those cups are for coffee, but since Americans drink more than 400 million cups of coffee a day – a lot of them were holding coffee before they hit the trash bin.

That’s not because nobody cares about recycling – it’s because today’s paper coffee cup is pretty tough to recycle.  If it were only paper, recycling wouldn’t be a problem – but holding your coffee in your hand would be.  Paper and hot coffee are not a good combination.  So the paper cup of today has a lining that keeps the coffee out of your lap – but that lining also keeps the cup out of the recycling in most places.

But now, from the chemistry lab at BASF, comes an answer:  a new lining for the old paper cup – made from a water-based polymer.  This polymer (a fancy word for plastic) keeps the coffee in the cup, same as always.  But where today’s lining clogs up the filters used in recycling paper – when you’ve finished this new cup of joe, that new polymer makes for smooth sailing through the recycling plant’s filters.

So keep an eye for that new cup at your favorite coffee shop.  Oh, and when you’re done, don’t forget to recycle it.

By the way, if you’re wondering how the chemists did it, here’s the short answer:  the secret is a polyacrylate coating – and that’s made, after a few chemical reactions, from propylene, one of the basic petrochemicals.