City DopeNews

Paper Cups Can Now Be Recycled in Athens

Charlie Mustard (right), owner of Jittery Joe’s Roasting Co., hands out free coffee to promote ACC’s new ability to recycle paper cups. Credit: Whitley Carpenter

Prior to this month, disposable coffee and soda cups belonged in the blue receptacles headed for the landfill. Now, though, ACC is able to send them to a facility that turns them into cardboard boxes.

After processing at the county Recovered Materials Processing Facility, paper is sent to a Pratt Industries mill in Conyers that produces recycled packaging. Previously, it wasn’t worth the effort to remove the thin plastic film coating paper cups, but that’s changed since the pandemic and a surge in online shopping.

“They want the paper badly enough that they’re willing to put up with a little inconvenience,” said Waste Reduction Administrator Joe Dunlop.

Once the plastic film is removed, it’s burned along with other materials that can’t be reused to generate power for the mill, Dunlop said. The temperature is high enough that most pollutants are burned away, he added.

The No. 5 plastic lids on cups are also recyclable, but not straws. To recycle a cup, simply pop off the lid to make it easier to separate from the paper cup at the RMFP, empty the cup and throw both in the recycling bin, Dunlop said. Cups should be empty but don’t need to be rinsed.

The Recycling Division recently held a promotional event with free coffee at the Jittery Joe’s Roasting Co. and is advertising the change using grants from Coca-Cola and the Foodservice Packaging Institute. In true Athens fashion, the event included a person dressed in a flamingo costume who, according to Dunlop, was unaffiliated with ACC and just showed up.

The Recycling Division is an enterprise fund, meaning it’s supposed to pay for itself, but in recent years it’s struggled to do so because China stopped accepting American recyclables, labeling them as too contaminated with food or other non-recyclables. However, since then, the recycling stream has gotten cleaner, and new domestic markets have opened up, Dunlop said. Between Dalton companies that turn old plastic into carpet and the car factories and beer- and soda-canning plants that use recycled aluminum, Georgia is the second-largest market in the U.S. behind California, he said. But new revenue is still needed, he said.