Paper Cup Recycling Hits New Milestone in the U.S. With Increased Cup Acceptance at Over 40 Paper Mills

Today, the NextGen Consortium, an industry collaboration managed by the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, joined the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) in announcing a major milestone in paper cup recycling in the U.S. Multiple paper mills, from Georgia to Wisconsin, have announced that they will now accept single-use polyethylene (PE)-coated paper cups in bales of mixed paper or polycoat cartons and aseptic packaging. This brings the total number of North American mills accepting paper cups to more than 40, marking significant progress as demand for recycled fiber content grows in the U.S., amidst increasing sustainability commitments and policy tailwinds. The new mills to accept cups include Newman and Company, Inc., Philadelphia, PA; PaperWorks Industries, Wabash, IN; Resolute Forest Products, Menominee Mill, MI; Greif Mill Group in Austell, GA and Milwaukee, WI, among others listed in FPI’s end market map.

Every year, an estimated 250 billion cups are used globally—the majority of which end up in landfills after a single-use. Historically, paper cups had been deemed ‘unrecyclable’ because of their plastic lining, resulting in low recovery rates and valuable materials ending up in landfill. In recent years, as mills compete for diminishing supplies of newspapers and office paper in the recycling system, there has been growing interest in opportunities to recover material categories that contain high-quality fiber, such as paper cups. Many mills––especially new and retrofitted builds––have undertaken repulpability studies to determine whether they can successfully recover the valuable fiber from coated paper packaging, such as fiber cups, for use in recycled fiber products. Positive outcomes of the studies have led to higher acceptance of fiber cups at mills. According to FPI, the dozens of paper mills that now accept paper cups in mixed paper bales represent more than 75 percent of U.S. mixed paper processing demand.

By accepting recovered paper materials, including cups, and reprocessing them into new products, mills play a pivotal role in advancing the larger paper cup recovery process. As more mills effectively recover fiber from paper cups, cup recycling is incentivized further upstream in materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and communities looking to improve their waste diversion efforts. While only 11 percent of communities in the U.S. officially accept cups in their residential recycling programs today, the increasing number of mills that accept cups signals a greater opportunity to grow cup recycling efforts.

“Alongside advancing reuse and material innovation, strengthening paper cup recovery and recycling is critical to keeping cups from going to waste in landfills,” said Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “Paper mills play a critical role in strengthening end markets for cups. By pulling materials through the system, mills accepting cups can drive increased cup processing in recycling facilities and cup collection in communities. We are thrilled to see cup recovery reach this important milestone in the United States, moving us closer to a waste-free future.”

For several years, the NextGen Consortium and Foodservice Packaging Institute have collaborated to strengthen existing materials recovery and recycling infrastructure to recapture more paper cups. Both organizations have released critical reports and research to guide paper cup recovery and recycling, such as NextGen’s report Closing the Loop on Cups and FPI’s White Paper on the The State of Paper Cup Recycling. While the challenges are significant, collaboration among various stakeholders involved in paper cup recovery can help address its scale and complexity.

“We are thrilled to work with a growing set of mills in their efforts to recover poly-coated paper cups,” says Natha Dempsey, President of FPI. “Reliable and responsible end markets for cups catalyze new opportunities for community partnerships, especially in regions that previously didn’t have the capability to recycle them.”

“The mix of recovered paper we receive has changed dramatically over the last several years, now including much more plastic that we have to separate in the repulping process. Paper cups contain good fiber and are no more difficult to recycle than many of the other prominent packaging categories we see today. We look forward to the value it will bring to our outputs at our mills in Austell, GA and Milwaukee, WI,” said Jeff Hilkert, VP Paperboard Sales of Greif Mill Group.”

In addition to working with the mills that are now accepting cups, the NextGen Consortium and FPI continue to work with several other interested mills to run studies that can help determine the viability of paper cups in their system. Furthermore, they are also working with groups up and down the value chain––including brands, MRFs and communities––to ensure more cups can be recycled, especially where viable and robust end markets exist. This collaborative work is a key step forward in increasing the supply of recycled content to meet growing demand, and reducing the amount of valuable materials being sent to landfill.

About the NextGen Consortium
The NextGen Consortium is a multi-year consortium that addresses single-use food packaging waste by advancing the design, commercialization and recovery of food packaging alternatives. The NextGen Consortium is managed by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy. Starbucks and McDonald’s are the founding partners of the Consortium, with The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo as sector lead partners. JDE Peet’s, Wendy’s and Yum! Brands are supporting partners. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is the environmental advisory partner. Learn more at

About the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners

The Center for the Circular Economy is the innovation arm of Closed Loop Partners, a firm at the forefront of building the circular economy. The Center executes research and analytics, unites organizations to tackle complex material challenges and implements systemic change that advances the circular economy. The Center for the Circular Economy’s expertise spans circularity across the full lifecycle of materials, connecting upstream innovation to downstream recovery infrastructure and end markets. Learn more about the Center for the Circular Economy at

About the Foodservice Packaging Institute

Founded in 1933, the Foodservice Packaging Institute is the trade association for the foodservice packaging industry in North America. FPI promotes the value and benefits of foodservice packaging and plays an active role in advancing the recovery of FSP to support the circular economy. The association serves as the industry’s leading authority to educate and influence stakeholders. Members include raw material and machinery suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and purchasers of foodservice packaging. For more information, visit

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *