Britons drink more than 8m takeaway coffees every day, then throw away the cup, many of which are not recycled, why is this?
The interesting point here is that whilst years ago these cups were not recyclable that has now changed. Many of these cups are recyclable yet less than 1 in 400 of the 8m used per day are recycled.
Let’s start with the basics. Is a paper coffee cup recyclable?
The Composition Of The Paper Coffee Cup
The challenge with most of the cups is that they are made from paper laminated with plastic, this ensures that it is watertight. But this mix makes recycling difficult. It cannot be treated as pure paper, first the plastic coating has to be separated from the paper. This puts them in the same difficult group as laminated crisps packets and pizza boxes.
Are Coffee Paper Cups Recyclable?
Well it depends on who you ask. And even then the answer can be confusing. Take Pret a Manger. They say that their coffee cups are recyclable but they have removed the logo from their cups. What most waste specialists seem to agree on is that most cups are recyclable but most waste units can only take a limited amount of them due to the difficulty of separating the materials. Look at South Oxfordshire and the devil really is in the detail.
South Oxfordshire council topped the UK’s recycling league in 2014/15 with a rate of 67.3% which is well above the national average. Their executive for waste recycling says that takeaway paper coffee cups should go into their green bins. But Recycle Now, the national recycling campaign for England, says they are not acceptable in household green bins. Biffa, the waste company, also says that they do not include coffee cups in its dry mixed recycling as paper mills do not like them.
So even if you are told by the coffee shop you buy your coffee from that the cup is recyclable and you put it in the relevant recycle bin your cup may still end up in landfill. Even if it ends up in a paper mill it could still be taken out and not used. Helen Bingham from Keep Britain Tidy sums up the problem nicely. “There is a disagreement, or lack of understanding, between the waste industry and the coffee industry. The coffee companies say the cups are completely recyclable, you can put them into paper bins, but the question is how they are going to get into the recycling stream without being a contaminant. The coffee companies and the waste industry need to talk to each other. Because it’s a hell of a lot of cups.” What can then make the problem worse is that people are usually drinking their takeaway coffees on the go and not at home where a recycling bin is nearer to hand.
Maybe the best solution here is for the UK to look at better and more popular keep cups. If you want to help the environment then check out one of the following as a possible way forward. The Joco cup is made from glass and retails at around £20. The Byocup is made from silicone which feels a little bendy but it’s tough when you get used to it. These sell for around £10. If you don’t want to spend that much then check out Robert Dyas Polar Gear travel mug, stainless steel, not high on the design side but does what it says on the tin.