The Memphis Business Journal reports that a six-week pilot program completed by Starbucks Coffee Co., International Paper Co. and other partners shows that it is possible to recycle Starbucks’ coffee cups into new paper cups.

The pilot program was conducted with Natchez, Miss.-based Mississippi River Pulp LLC, which to date operates the only pulp mill in the U.S. that has successfully recycled used cups into fiber suitable for producing new cups, the companies announced in a press release Tuesday.

Memphis-based International Paper (NYSE: IP) is one of the largest manufacturers of Starbucks paper cups.

“What’s really exciting about the cup-to-cup concept is that it has the potential to benefit not only Starbucks, but the entire food service industry,” said Greg Wanta, vice president of International Paper Food Service, in a statement. “If we can continue to prove the value of used cup material generated by Starbucks and other retailers, we can help increase recycling rates in communities across the country.”

One of Starbucks’ (NASDAQ: SBUX) corporate goals is to ensure that 100 percent of its cups are reusable or recyclable by 2015.

“This innovation represents an important milestone in our journey,” said Jim Hanna, Starbucks director of Environmental Impact. “We still have a lot of work to do to reach our 2015 goal, but we’re now in a much stronger position to build momentum across the recycling industry. Our next step is to test this concept in a major city, which we plan to do in collaboration with International Paper and Mississippi River in 2011.”

While some communities already recycle Starbucks paper cups, most do not have the infrastructure to handle collection, hauling and processing due to a lack of demand for cup material by the recycling industry.

“We’re looking forward to working with Starbucks, International Paper and other stakeholders to take the pilot project to the next level,” said Rob Garland, chief executive officer at Mississippi River Pulp. “Based on what we’ve seen so far, we think this is a very promising path.”

The cup-to-cup pilot was conceived earlier this year at a two-day symposium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The event involved government officials, raw materials suppliers, cup manufacturers, retail and beverage businesses, recyclers, conservation groups and academic experts who want to develop a plan for improving local recycling systems. 

Read more: Memphis Business Journal