Changing Employee Behavior Starting with Paper Cup Recycling - Green&Circular 脱炭素ソリューション|三井物産

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Last Update:2024.07.11

Changing Employee Behavior Starting with Paper Cup Recycling

Mitsui Bussan Packaging, together with its partners, is promoting paper cup recycling activities. Although many products have changed from plastic materials to paper materials, they end up in the same trash. The seeds of recycling, born from such a sense of discomfort, are gradually spreading, especially in offices.

Mitsui Bussan Packaging advocates "professional solutions for paper and packaging issues". Mitsui Bussan Packaging is a company that proposes environmentally friendly packaging and the establishment of resource recycling schemes, utilizing its strengths as a trading company in the overall recycling value chain. More than 90% of the corrugated board products handled by the company are made from recycled paper. The company is now focusing on paper cups as a new paper resource. We asked the company about its thoughts on paper cups and how it works.

Recyclable familiar resources Paper cups

-- First of all, please tell us why you started recycling paper cups.
Oike: Several years ago, when environmental issues came under close scrutiny, there was a trend in the packaging industry to switch from plastic to paper materials. This was around the time when straws were made of paper.
However, even after all the hard work of switching to paper, the straws ended up in the trash. I thought something is not right and once it’s converted to paper, it should be recycled.
Toshiyuki Oike Senior Business Creator, Business Development Division, Business Development Department, Mitsui Bussan Packaging Co.,Ltd.
Toshiyuki Oike Senior Business Creator, Business Development Division, Business Development Department, Mitsui Bussan Packaging Co.,Ltd.
Toshiyuki Oike joined Mitsui Bussan Packaging in 2008. Joined the company in 2008 and engaged in launching new businesses in the CVS area in Japan, starting with paper. He is currently working on launching new businesses that contribute to environmental responsiveness, with the theme of solving social issues that the paper field can solve.
--That is certainly true.
Oike: Recycling of newspaper and cardboard is well established, but there are still many paper resources that are not being utilized. First of all, we decided to focus on paper cups, which are familiar to everyone.
--How many paper cups are consumed annually to begin with?
Oike: Approximately 6.1 billion beverage cups were shipped in Japan in FY2021. In terms of weight, this amounts to 36,000 tons. However, the paper market is so large that even if all of them were recycled, it would still amount to less than 1% of the total paper resources.
-Is such a quantity problem the main reason why recycling has not progressed to date?
Oike: That is one reason, but the most important reason is that they are dirty. The main reason is that we do not want to use such materials as raw materials.
-- So, what is the process of collecting and recycling paper cups?
Oike: We ask customers to lightly wash their paper cups after drinking and place them in a special collection box. Yamato Transport collects them and stocks them at Tokyo Resources, from where they are recycled into cardboard, toilet paper, and other products at Nippon Paper Industries.
--Is recycling paper cups a difficult technology?
Oike: Paper cups are laminated on the inside, but this is not technically difficult, as milk cartons have already been recycled since the 1980s.

Cross-industry encounters with CLOMA as a starting point

--I understand that many of your partners met through CLOMA (Japan Clean Ocean Material Alliance). Please tell us about that organization.
Oike This organization was created in 2019, led by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, to solve the problem of marine plastic waste. Stakeholders across industries are working together to address this issue, and we are part of the paper section of the organization. Mainly, we are working to increase recyclability by converting items that were previously made of plastic to paper materials.
--The company has also been linked through CLOMA to Nippon Paper Industries, which makes recycled paper; Plus, a stationery, office supply, and office furniture manufacturer that collects paper cups; and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Japan, which sells over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceuticals. OTC drug maker GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Japan, etc. are also connected through CLOMA.
Oike: That's right. The demonstration experiment started in 2020, but at that time no one was recycling paper cups. Therefore, we had to start from scratch and go through a trial-and-error process to figure out how to collect them and who would transport them.
--what was the first step?
We requested cooperation from the headquarters of Oike Mitsui & Co. and started by collecting paper cups used by employees for coffee and other drinks. At the same time, we created a collection box exclusively for paper cups that anyone can easily assemble and stack.
It can be placed in a box and covered with a lid to separate it from general trash, and its box shape makes it easy to transport. It is also leak-proof.
It can be placed in a box and covered with a lid to separate it from general trash, and its box shape makes it easy to transport. It is also leak-proof.
-- What were your innovations in creating the mechanism?
Oike: First of all, when we asked people to wash their clothes, it was unknown how many people would do so. We started with the idea of spreading the word, but the initial collection rate was very low. On the other hand, we found that those who cooperated did wash properly.

The person in charge of the project made announcements on a regular basis, and after that, the collection rate increased. As we continued, the number of cooperators gradually increased.
POP display at the event held at Mitsui's head office
POP display at the event held at Mitsui's head office

Eliminate leftover drink and only need to rinse once.

--The task of "washing" paper cups is one hurdle. In fact, how much washing is needed?
Oike: In terms of a level that can be handled as a recycled raw material, first of all, we would like you to eliminate leftover drinking. After that, it is enough if you rinse it about once. There is no need to scrub coffee stains (laughs).
--Who pays for the transportation and other recycling costs, and how much are they borne by the company?
Oike: Since we are still in the testing stage, we are basically asking companies that emit paper cups to pay for the TA-Q-BIN service. Although it depends on the volume, the annual cost is several tens of thousands of yen, which is not a difficult amount for a corporate activity.
-- What kind of structure are you aiming for in the future?
Oike: First of all, we are thinking of extending the current line. We do not want to collect a large amount. If the number of paper cups can be reduced through the use of "My Bottle" and other means, we would like to give priority to that. However, it would be very difficult to reduce the number of paper cups to zero, so we are thinking of recycling what we use, even if it costs a little more money.

More and more companies are adopting to raise employee awareness

--What are the most common reasons why companies are willing to help us collect paper cups?
Oike: In recent years, more and more companies are stepping up their efforts to reduce their environmental impact. However, concrete actions by individual employees are still far from sufficient. Many of the companies we are currently working with are facing this challenge, and they were looking for activities that would serve as a guideline for their actions in terms of environmental responsiveness.
In this context, efforts are being promoted for the reason that paper cups are familiar and easy to introduce because of the collection and recycling systems in place.
--So it is largely a matter of raising environmental awareness among employees. How do you plan to expand this in the future?
Oike: We have many offices in the Tokyo metropolitan area alone, so first of all, we would like to let many people know about our activities. Then there are facilities such as stadiums.

Events that parents and children can easily participate in are also popular.

--I hear that efforts have already begun at the food court in Tokyo Dome City and at outlet parks.
Oike: Tokyo Dome City started with paper cups for drinking water in the food court. At Mitsui Outlet Park Kisarazu, we held an event in collaboration with Mitsui's Earth hacks. In this event, paper cups are collected at the outlets on weekends and turned into toilet paper, which is then distributed to customers one month later.
-When paper cups become toilet paper, they are more easily recognizable and familiar.
Oike: That's right. Since many of the outlets are family oriented, parents explained to their children and everyone was interested. I would like to do more activities like this.
--Is there a possibility of horizontal recycling (*1), where paper cups are recycled from paper cup to paper cup?
Oike: Technically, it is possible. In the U.S., it has already been adopted by Starbucks and other companies. However, there are no actual examples in Japan due to the lack of such business practices and differences in the way used paper is collected.
However, since horizontal recycling of PET bottles has become widespread over time, paper cups may well be a possibility in the future.
1 Horizontal recycling = Collecting used products and using them as raw materials to make new products with the same functions.

If we can contribute to the environment through paper cups

--Lastly, what is your dream that you would like to achieve through paper cup recycling?
Oike: I believe the world is transforming into a recycling society. Since Japan is a country of small resources, I believe that various initiatives will be promoted, and paper cups are a renewable resource in which consumers can easily participate.
If our activities can lead to a change in your behavior and make even a small contribution to environmental issues in Japan and around the world, I believe that this activity will be meaningful. We will continue to work hard toward that goal.
--Thank you very much for your time today.
We can support your paper cup upcycling activities. If you are interested, please feel free to contact us!

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