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Denver Adds Paper Cup Recycling to Curbside Recycling Program

Denver has added paper cups to its list of acceptable items for recycling via a partnership with the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI). The Colorado city is the fourth FPI Community partner to add paper cup recycling; others include Washington, DC; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Louisville, Kentucky.

FPI chooses city partners based on their location in relation to viable end markets and material recovery facilities (MRFs) that have the desire and capacity to recycle foodservice packaging items. Cities must also have the ability and willingness to educate communities on the fact that such items are now accepted for recycling.

Denver-based Alpine Waste & Recycling will receive the cups for recycling; currently, the MRF processes over 30,000 tons of recyclables for the city each year. The company is seeking to grow the quantity of carton bales it produces by adding other poly-coated feedstock like paper cups. The recycled paper cups will go to Sustana’s Fox River Fiber facility. The paper mill produces about 450 tons of de-inked, recycled pulp per day and receives about 1.3 million pounds of post-consumer paper daily from its suppliers.

FPI says opportunities for paper cup recycling continue to grow, with 16 paper mills in the US and Canada accepting poly-coated paper cups as part of commodity bales such as mixed paper or aseptic cartons.

Denver views adding paper cups as an opportunity to boost its recycling program, which already accepts plastic containers and cups. The city has a goal of increasing its recycling rate to 34%, the national average, as outlined in Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s 2020 Sustainability Goals.

In a city of 250,000 people, roughly 3,000 tons of cups, containers, boxes and paper bags are generated annually, FPI says. About 75% of this material is fiber. A 10% recovery rate – which is a realistic initial goal for new materials, according to the organization – would mean the addition of about 300 tons annually being sent to an MRF, consisting of approximately 230 tons of paper and 70 tons of plastic.

When FPI adds foodservice packaging to a city’s recycling program, the organization conducts outreach to stakeholders like MRFs, haulers, end markets, and communities. It collects data on stream composition and other program parameters before and after the launch, and develops a communications component to complement the education and outreach efforts of the chosen community.

Selected partner communities are also eligible for grant funding to assist with educating residents on the additions to the program, FPI says.

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