It is a shocking statistic to find that one in 400 takeaway coffee cups are recycled in the UK. And even worse to hear that the UK gets through 10,000 of these in just two minutes.
So why is this the case? The cups are made from a combination of paper and plastic which means they are harder to recycle and reuse. But now the country’s largest coffee retailer, Costa Coffee has launched a new initiative to encourage their customers to recycle coffee cups. With 2,000 stores across the country, this means that approximately 30 million takeaway paper cups end up in landfill sites every year from Costa alone. This plan is part of a trial that has already been successfully delivered in 45 stores across London and Manchester towards the end of last year. Costa is the first coffee retailer to consider such a strategy and will accept paper cups from any of their competitors. Their nationwide project will be put into action this coming April.
The move was welcomed by Martin Kersh, executive director at the Foodservice Packaging Association. He told Packaging News: “We’re delighted to see the cup recycling scheme is being rolled out to all the Costa stores. Costa has pioneered this development and should receive immense praise from everyone in the industry and from those NGOs and media who accuse the industry of not taking action. We appreciate inviting competitors’ coffee consumers to return their cups represents logistical difficulties both front and back of house, so our congratulations to the Costa team for making it possible.”
Why are Costa's coffee cups so difficult to recycle?
First and foremost, many of them can't be recycled. The waterproof card is fused with polyethylene, a material that cannot be separated out again in a standard recycling mill. Secondly, they aren't made from recycled materials. Despite this, coffee companies are permitted to describe them as "recyclable" because technically speaking, they are able to be recycled, but the process is highly specialised. In fact there are only two places in the UK which could be capable of this. However, one site has never actually dealt with a single paper cup - the other has processed a very tiny number.
So what are Costa proposing?
According to Costa ( @CostaCoffee ), once deposited at one of their stores, the cups will be collected by team members and stored on dedicated racks before beginning their recycling journey. The corporation will also deduct 25p off each beverage when a customer uses a reusable cup at Costa or a franchise owned store. The reputable coffee company will be teaming up with Veollia to dispose the waste in an environmentally friendly way and then they will be turned back into moulded fibre products.
“As the UK’s largest coffee shop brand, we want to make it as easy as possible for the public to recycle their used coffee cups,” said Jason Cotta, the Managing Director of Costa UK and Ireland. “Our research in Manchester and London shows around 40 cups per day are left in stores, which means we have the potential to recycle 30 million Costa cups a year. What’s more, the fact that we will accept competitors’ cups means we could significantly increase that figure,” as stated in The Guardian.
Additionally, two new multipurpose reusable cups are currently under development as Costa looks to expand their sustainable efforts further. They are also conducting further research alongside the University of Sheffield to investigate cup recyclability. This great effort is part of the company's desire to create long-term benefits and become change-makers in the industry.
In other news, Starbucks is also in the process of trialling a fully recyclable coffee cup called Frugalpac in order to prevent more cups making it into landfill sites. Furthermore, the environmental charity Hubbub will be trialling a paper cup recycling bin scheme in Manchester which has been supported by the likes of McDonald’s, Costa Coffee, Caffè Nero, Pret a Manger, KFC, Greggs and Nestlé.
Many organisations tried to persuade the government to pose a ban on paper/plastic cups last year after the shocking statistics were announced, but it was ultimately rejected. Alternatively, the Frugalpac cup, which was launched in 2016, has a thin film liner designed to be separated easily from the paper in the recycling process. As a result, this leaves 100% paper, which can be recycled. Frugalpac has developed a new technology that produces packaging for liquids that is environmentally friendlier than current packaging such as glass, laminated cartons, disposable coffee cups and plastic bottles.
Editor's Comment: For a nation of coffee lovers, it is good to see this nationwide project coming into effect very soon; hopefully this will be the start of big changes going forward in an industry that must improve its sustainabilty efforts.
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