Mar 22, 2023

City of Memphis introduces paper cup recycling

The city of Memphis has partnered with the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) as the latest city to introduce residential paper cup recycling as more than 182,000 households now can recycle clean, empty paper cups through the city's curbside program.

The initiative launched June 1 and, with support from a communications grant from FPI, will include an outreach campaign where residents can learn about the various packaging accepted in their city such as pizza boxes, paper bags, plastic cups and containers, aluminum foil and cans, containers and paper cups.

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"It's exciting to be a part of this incredible initiative aimed at expanding recycling programs and include paper cups in our acceptable list of materials," Memphis Solid Waste Director Philip Davis says. "Through this partnership, we are now able to offer our community a valuable opportunity to conserve resources and reduce the amount of waste ending up in landfills."

The city sends its collected recyclables to Republic Services’ material recovery facility (MRF) in Memphis. Phoenix-based Republic inherited the 42,000-square-foot site in 2017 when it acquired then-independent recycling processing company ReCommunity Holdings.

"We’re delighted to team up with the city of Memphis to ramp up its recycling efforts," FPI President Natha Dempsey says. "By accepting paper cups into the residential recycling program and doing outreach in the community, we hope to communicate the importance of recycling foodservice packaging items.

"We actually started our very first community partnership in Tennessee back in 2017, so returning to the state to expand our efforts is especially meaningful to us."

Memphis is the latest city to accept paper cups in its curbside recycling program as the trend continues to grow.

In April, FPI partnered with MRFs in North Carolina and South Carolina to add paper cups to curbside programs. The first community to roll out the initiative was New Hanover County, North Carolina, which sends recyclables to the Sonoco Recycling MRF in New Hanover where more than 25,000 tons of recyclables are processed per year.

FPI has been promoting paper cup recycling over the last several years. In late 2021, the member companies announced a commitment to increase recycling of paper cups, denouncing previous notions that they polymer coating found on the cups makes them unsuitable for recycling.

According to FPI studies conducted in Boston and Delaware, paper cups and other foodservice packaging are no more contaminated than commonly recycled food-contact items.

"We encourage communities and MRFs to connect directly with their end markets and local mills to check if they will accept bales containing paper cups," Dempsey said in 2021.

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