Recycling initiative to tackle disposable waste

Every cup counts for new UniSQ research

For many, a morning cup of coffee is a necessity – so it’s of little surprise that Australians use an estimated 1 billion disposable coffee cups a year.

Although designed for single use, a plastic coating within these cups prevents recyclability and often sees them end up in landfill.

Now, University of Southern Queensland research fellow Dr Matt Flynn is working on a solution to filter out the excess waste from our favourite brew.

Part of the University’s Centre for Future Materials NO WASTE team, Dr Flynn and his colleagues are designing structural materials from single-use cups, including panels and boards.

“A lot of people would say these cups are recyclable, and technically they are, but it requires infrastructure that can only be found in a few places worldwide,” Dr Flynn said.

“By shredding these cups and then pressing them, we have been able to make a material similar to a particle board, with the plastic coating acting as an adhesive.

“We are also making sure that the method we are developing is easy and inexpensive, lending itself to the setup of a processing facility.”

Still in optimisation, Dr Flynn has teamed up with Talon Technology CEO Geoff Germon to help design a consumer product using the new material.

“The aim is to create a show and tell part using the coffee cup material that is more than a flat panel,” Mr Germon said.

“The first item we will produce will be a platter, which will be used as a design example.

“This will highlight the material’s versatility and put it on the palette of our product makers.”

The project was first launched by student Alexandra Sage, who was studying the potential business incentives of recycling. Dr Flynn joined the team at the start of last year, using his background in chemistry to help create materials with real-world applications.

The project has since grown with the help of summer research student Lisa Hopkins, and the supervision of Associate Professor Polly Burey, Associate Professor Andreas Helwig, Dr Jessica Feldman and Dr Tristan Shelley.

“Something is only truly recycled when it is used again, which makes it vital to consider the design and economics of the product,” Dr Flynn said.

“We are hoping to create a simple process which will save these cups from going into landfill.

“It will also mean that regional areas won’t have to send this waste to Brisbane to be processed, it can be done locally, and by reusing the end product, the process will be economically viable.”

Learn more about our research at the University of Southern Queensland.

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