Coffee cups – recycling or trash? Here's the answer

THREE million coffee cups that would normally go into landfill will now be composted at NuGrow's Swanbank revegetation plant.

Merlo, a Brisbane-based coffee company, has teamed up with BioPak to be the first coffee business in Queensland to introduce compostable takeaway cups and lids made out of plants.

They will be used in all 15 Merlo cafe's around Queensland including the one at Springfield.

Each store goes through about 500 takeaway cups a day, which would normally end up in the bin.

NuGrow Chief Commercial Officer Jacob Wilson said the compostable cups would be mixed into the normal processing on site at Swanbank.

NuGrow Ipswich site supervisor Gregg Ellis with the recyclable Merlo cups that gets turned into the mulch behind him.
NuGrow Ipswich site supervisor Gregg Ellis with the recyclable Merlo cups that gets turned into the mulch behind him. Rob Williams

"Once mixed it's a 12 week process."

The composted materials are then screened and either composted for longer or sold for use in civil or commercial projects.

Mr Wilson said NuGrow compost material was used in the second range crossing and other garden projects across the state.

Merlo founder Dean Merlo said ditching plastic-coated cups and moving to a composting system would cut Merlo's carbon emissions by 25 per cent, keep 9.4 tonnes of plastic out of landfill and create 164 tonnes of compost each year.

While the costs are a few cents per cup, Mr Merlo is not passing the cost onto customers.

"In our 15 Merlo cafes across Queensland, we go through millions of takeaway cups every year - if you lined them up, they'd stretch from Brisbane to Byron Bay and back again," Mr Merlo said.

Special bins are now available at each store for people to place their cup and lid in, as well as any cutlery, straws, serviettes and plates as all are now compostable.

These materials, along with all of Merlo's coffee grounds and food scraps, are now collected by a recycling company and taken to NuGrow.

In this circular economy NuGrow is expected to recycle about 750 bags of compost from Merlo every year equivalent to about 30 wheelie bins full per week.

BioPak CEO Gary Smith said Springfield Merlo customers could now be part of the solution to the national waste crisis.

"Along with a mountain of coffee cups, Australians dump more than eight-million tonnes of food and organic waste that could be composted," Mr Smith said.

"Decomposing food releases methane, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, causing enormous damage to our environment.

"We are thrilled that Merlo is leading the way in Queensland by composting its cups and organic waste - I'm sure its coffee-loving customers will seize the chance to be part of this change."

While other coffee companies provide compostable or recyclable cups, these are still ending up in landfill.

Merlo also aims to roll out compostable cups to the 1600 cafes it supplies with Merlo coffee beans.