ButterflyCup Recycle is a plastic-free and laminate-free disposable cup that allows it to be recycled with regular cardboard and paper. 

Bartalks recently published an article on the dangers of plastic lining paper coffee cups that indicated drinking from these cups  resulted in ingesting microplastics, which in turn could contribute to cancer, and even infertility. Non plastic-coated paper cups also come with a plastic lid making it not fully recyclable without separation when disposing.

Finding a balance between the convenience of a cup that doesn’t leak, and our desire to reduce harmful environmental waste seemed elusive. Fixing the issue required some “out of the cup thinking” (sorry, ed).

The problem was not only the plastic coating in cups, but the whole cup design, requiring lids, sometimes straws, etc. Each of these problems needed to be solved independently, a non-plastic lid, and a non-plastic straw. To date, the solutions to these problems has not been entirely satisfactory. Paper straws for example rapidly deteriorate into a soggy pulp, as the glue used to form the straw softens – so the consumer is also ingesting glue.

One part of the solution therefore was to find a way to make paper cups act like plastic, but without the negative environmental impact. Using a plant based plastic alternative appeared to be the answer.

Plant based plastic alternatives have been around for some time, and used in the food industry for example to wrap sandwiches. The application of this technology, however, only made sense for higher margin items that could afford the premium of better quality packaging. Plant based coatings such as PLA also contain a proportion of plastic.

ButterflyCup was invented by an engineer, Joe Lu – now the company’s Technical Director. He was motivated by the desire to eliminate the need for plastic lids & straws and to improve the consumer drinking experience.

Joe was joined by Tommy McLoughlin, CEO of ButterflyCup to help commercialise the project. They have worked together full-time since 2012 in developing improved iterations of the cup and the modified cup forming process required to take ButterflyCup from a handmade prototype to a commercial product now selling in over 26 countries worldwide.

As a process of continuous improvement ButterflyCup still needed to find a paper that could be easily recycled and biodegrade safely.  In 2018 they found a solution called ISLA paperboard.  

ISLA paperboard developed by Kotkamills in Finland (is produced in a $220 million paper mill that was designed and built specially to make waterproof paperboard that is both plastic-free and easy to pulp and recycle). 

ISLA is made using pure and natural paperboard sourced from PEFC™ and FSC® certified sustainable forests that is water-proofed with a thin plastic-free, water-based dispersion barrier.

As a result ISLA paperboard can be recycled in mainstream paperboard recycling along with newspaper and cardboard. So, when you finish your ButterflyCup drink you can throw the cup into the waste paper basket and have it recycled with regular paper.

Even if the ButterflyCup ReCycle is improperly disposed of as litter, it biodegrades naturally like raw paper (comfortably exceeding the EN13432 standard) thereby overcoming the long-term build-up of environmental litter and microplastic residue caused by cups, lids and straws made using plastic or PLA.

Traditional paper cups require a heavy laminate plastic or PLA waterproof coating which makes them difficult to recycle, resulting in the vast majority ending up in landfill or as long-term litter.

The product is environmentally sustainable, hygienic and price competitive, without compromising on convenience. The main issue with a new design is that it requires a mental shift from consumers (a great past example is the Dyson vacuum cleaner).

Considering the benefits it brings, it will be interesting to see if the company can get some big brands on board which will be key to the new design winning acceptance among consumers.

ButterflyCup Recycle can claim multiple benefits compared to the existing regular cup and lid, including that it: 

  •  Eliminates plastic lids and the related splashes, leaks, drips and spills
  • Costs less than the comparable cup and lid alternative 
  • Is 100% recyclable, compostable & bio-degradable 
  • Reduces the number of stock items (SKUs), and therefore
  • Reduces the storage and counter space requirement
  • Saves staff time stacking and tidying lids
  • Speeds the serving process
  • Is environmentally friendly


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