JAL, major paper firm begin recycling paper cups

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A JAL flight attendant collects paper cups on board an aircraft on Tuesday.

Japan Airlines Co. and Nippon Paper Industries Co. began a joint initiative Thursday to recycle paper cups used on JAL flights.

Until now, the cups have been discarded as combustible waste, but the new project will turn the paper drinking vessels into toilet paper and cardboard, strengthening the firms’ efforts to protect the environment.

Paper cups are often laminated internally with a plastic material to prevent leakages. However, due to the time and effort required to remove this plastic, paper cups have traditionally not been recycled as often as other paper-based materials — such as newspapers and magazines — and instead burned as trash. Drink stains and the lack of a collection system have also been seen as problems.

In October, Nippon Paper Industries began operating a dedicated facility at its mill in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, that separates paper and plastic materials and extracts paper fibers. Under the new partnership, used paper cups will be collected from flights to and from Haneda Airport and cleaned at an airport facility before being turned into toilet paper, cardboard and other products at Nippon Paper Industries’ plant.

JAL dispenses around 30,000 paper cups on its flights to and from Haneda each day. If all these cups were recycled, they would yield enough paper to make 960 rolls of toilet paper.

According to Nippon Paper Industries, around 100,000 tons’ worth of paper cups are used domestically each year. Consumption is expected to increase further as more companies switch from plastic to paper-based containers for food and beverages. Looking ahead, the company is considering the possibility of turning the collected materials into more paper cups. Nippon Paper Industries officials say they hope to further expand their collection efforts.