Taiwan's Coffee Craze Highlights Recycling Challenge

Taiwan's Coffee Craze Highlights Recycling Challenge
Photo Credit: Complete Merchandise @ Flickr CC BY 2.0

What you need to know

Taiwanese drink an estimated 2.3 billion cups of coffee each year, and yet only one company is in charge of recycling them.

According to statistics from the 2015 HOFEX, coffee consumption in Taiwan has jumped 400% in just four years, reaching an annual average of 100 cups per person. With a population of 23.51 million people, this means an estimated 2.3 billion cups of coffee each year, and hundreds of millions of them are in recyclable cups.

But Lin Shou-chien (林守謙) of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) tells The News Lens International that only one company in Taiwan, Lientai (連泰紙業股份有限公司), is charged with recycling tableware laminated with Polyethylene (PE) foil, the category of recyclable waste that includes coffee cups, which are not paper waste.

An employee at Lientai surnamed Chen tells TNLI that companies need to apply for a license to do this kind of recycling, which is more time consuming than recycling paper.

“If you soak newspaper in water it comes apart really fast,” Chen says. “But that's not the case for tableware laminated with PE foil, which takes a long time in the blender before it decomposes. This is also why many factories can’t decompose these tableware completely.”

Chen says the coffee cups they recycle must have the four-in-one recycle logo printed on. However, the government does not specify which manufacturers can or cannot print the logo, and consequently, most factories include the symbol, even when the product cannot be recycled.

The coffee cups sent to Lientai for recycling have been certifified as recyclable by a company that works with the EPA, Chen says.

But the biggest issue, Chen says, is the low recycling rate.

“Many people categorize this kind of waste [tableware with PE foil lamination] as recyclable paper but it’s not, which requires a different recycling process,” she says.

The tableware Lientai recycles is mostly turned into “paper money,” or “ghost money,” which is burnt in temples or for religious ceremonies, Chen says.

Emma (艾瑪), manager of the Taipei World Trade Center branch of local coffee chain Cama, told TNLI that the coffee cups used by their branch are sent to building management for recycling at the end of each day.

“I think most of the cups are sent to paper recycling stations,” she says. “I know there are doubts in recycling coffee cups [as paper waste], but we don’t know how to recycle them properly, and the government hasn’t made related announcements.”

Emma also says that their branch goes through about 200 coffee cups daily in the summer, and between 300 and 400 a day in winter.

Lin of the EPA says the government currently encourages people to sort their trash into three categories: general waste, kitchen waste and recyclable waste.

“The recycling teams then sort the recycled waste into more detailed categories, such as paper, plastic, aluminum, and so on,” he says. “The EPA also provides subsidies for businesses that recycle tableware laminated with PE foil, so they should have the incentive to do so, but there might be businesses that still handle the waste as general trash.”

Edited by J. Michael Cole