Fast-food chain A&W is piloting the Zero Cup, a fully recyclable and compostable coffee cup designed by UK-based company Butterfly Cup. The environmentally-friendly cup is made entirely of paper and requires no lid, straw or plastic liner. A&W claims to be the first quick service restaurant (QSR) in North America to pilot the Butterfly Cup.
“Each year, A&W Canada serves millions of takeout drinks, so finding a more sustainable single-use cup solution is one way we can make a big difference,” said Susan Senecal, President & CEO of A&W Canada, in a press release. “Our new Zero Cup is an exciting step in our journey to reach zero waste. Part of achieving that mission is pioneering the innovations that people need to live more sustainable lives.”
The unique-looking cup is made with a water-based coating that prevents leaks and is suitable for both hot and cold beverages. The pilot initiative rolled out in participating restaurants across the Greater Toronto Area earlier this week and A&W guests are encouraged to share their thoughts on trying the Zero Cup for the first time here.
According to the non-profit organization Zero Waste Canada, out of the roughly 14 billion cups of coffee enjoyed by Canadians each year, an estimated five billion are consumed in single-use cups that end up in landfills. If the Butterfly Cup is widely adopted, A&W said, this number could be drastically cut down by avoiding the use of unrecyclable plastic liners.
The Butterfly Cup is not the first or the only coffee cup maker that claims its cups are fully recyclable and compostable. But several others have come under fire recently for making false sustainability claims. New Zealand-based Glopac was forced to retract claims that its cups are recyclable since recycling facilities don’t accept them. Similarly, the Ad Standards Jury of Australia found Pinnacle International Wholesalers’ claims that its disposable coffee cups were plastic-free, fully recyclable and compostable were in breach of the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics.
In addition to the Butterfly Cup, another commercially viable option is available. California-based Smart Planet Technologies developed EarthCoating, a lining for paper packaging that uses 40 to 51 percent less plastic than conventional plastic coating. The coating is made from a special mix of minerals and resin so that it can be easily separated from the cardboard during the recycling process. Several large companies, including United Airlines and Taco Bell in Australia, already use recyclable products with EarthCoating.
While fully recyclable coffee cups do exist, consumers are unlikely to find them at major chains, including Starbucks. Although the coffee giant has made several pledges to produce recyclable cups dating back to 2008, its cups are still unable to be recycled economically. Currently, Starbucks cups are lined with a polyethylene plastic coating that makes them nearly impossible to recycle.
While Starbucks may take some time to catch up to other chains, A&W Canada’s efforts will hopefully encourage other QSRs to make the switch to environmentally-friendly packaging.