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Ecodek’s coffee cup composite helps harvest urban waste for decking solutions

Further elevating its environmental credentials, sustainable UK decking manufacturer Ecodek has progressed development of its solid composite products by making single-use coffee cups part of its material fabrication process.

Already an environmentally sustainable alternative to timber, and the only low maintenance UK-made composite board to provide a 25-year warranty, Ecodek’s decking has, since 2002 consistently been manufactured using 95 percent recycled and sustainably sourced materials.

Now, as a result of a collaboration with independent plastic recycling and resource management consultancy Nextek, Ecodek will be repurposing these cups – the material of which currently proves challenging for recycling plants to process.

WRAP Cymru played a pivotal role in this collaborative project – one in a series of recycled content trials funded by the Welsh Government and led by WRAP Cymru – which has presented an exciting opportunity to usefully repurpose some of the 2.5 billion single-use plastic-paper cups disposed of annually in the UK.

Whilst the cups are technically recyclable, less than 1 in 400 – just 0.25 percent – enter the recycling process; as a result of ineffective waste separation, combined with the complexities of the cups’ original production methods.

Although made largely of paper, disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic, typically polyethylene, which is tightly bonded to the paper to make the cups waterproof and able to retain liquid. In addition, the cups are often contaminated with remnants of the drink they contained, so cannot be recycled at standard paper recycling plants and must instead be taken to special facilities – of which only a few exist throughout Europe.

Trailblazing a capability to demonstrate sustainable repurposing for used cups here in the UK, Ecodek has applied its extruding expertise to successfully create strong polymer composites to form into a completely waterproof building material.

The company has developed a strong industry-wide reputation for its continued commitment to environmental issues. Commenting on this latest transformational development, Felicity Hodgkinson, Marketing Manager at Ecodek said:

“We’re proud to have progressed to a game-changing manufacturing position where we are able to take plastic lined paper cups and convert them into an environmentally friendly building material.

“We’ve long advocated the advantages and social responsibilities of harvesting ‘resources’ from our urban waste supply as opposed to using virgin natural materials and plastics, believing that there is vast potential for international manufacturing to become more sustainable.

“Converting redundant HDPE milk bottles into decking composites will remain a key element of our manufacturing process; however, thanks to project partner Nextek we’re also taking this exciting sideways move and using expended paper-plastic cups.”

Following years of research on paper plastic composites, Nextek has successfully devised processes that enable strong blends of paper fibre and plastics to be effectively converted to manufacturing and building materials.

“As the infrastructure for post-use collection improves, so will opportunities to re-use paper-plastic cups, and perceptions of these throwaway items being environmentally damaging will alter. Hopefully, cups will start to be viewed as future manufacturing materials, and from there, the possibilities are endless.”

“If implemented successfully, the environmental scope for new, urban waste composites is tremendous,” Felicity concludes. “We’re delighted to be part of what has the potential to be an exciting manufacturing transition and look forward to working with Nextek and seeing the industry evolve; ready for a more environmentally sound future.”

Read more on the Ecodek blog

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