As we covered in one of our recent posts, plastic waste in the UK is a monumental problem. As a nation, we are big coffee drinkers, with a £9bn coffee-shop habit. This means we often find ourselves popping into a coffee shop more than once a day. The cups we drink from though, as we walk to work or wander around town are causing a problem. Every minute in the UK, around 500 disposable single-use coffee cups are thrown away. Many have the “recycle” sign embossed on them, but there’s a problem. Though claiming to be recyclable, the UK has just three facilities that can split the paper and plastic components of the cups for recycling. The three facilities are not part of the general recycling system, and according to the Guardian, less than 1 in 400 cups – under 0.25% – are recycled.
This poses a problem because even if people are recycling their coffee cups, many of them will still go into general waste. To combat this issue, MP’s have called for a 25p levy on all disposable coffee cups. The new charge will go towards funding the infrastructure in the next five years to make all cups recyclable. If this target cannot be met, then the one-use cups will have to be banned.
There are currently around 20,000 coffee outlets across the UK. With that number expected to rise to 30,000 by 2025. The more coffee shops there are across the country, the more coffee cups there will be. And, unfortunately, more coffee cups that are not being recycled. Parliament argues that some of the responsibility for proper disposable and recycling falls on the coffee shops themselves. Claims that they are not doing enough to provide proper recycling facilities are widely agreed upon by MPs.
Recent studies suggest that a single coffee cup could take around 30 years to break down. Our coffee habit is leading to a mountain of toxic waste for the next generation. But, what are the biggest coffee retailers doing to make a difference? After a recent programme by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall revealed to the nation how few cups actually get recycled, the pressure has been put on chains like Starbucks and Pret to act fast. Before, people widely believed their cups were being recycled. Now they know they’re not, they want to know what is being done to combat it.
Starbucks is trialling a 100% recyclable eco-cup designed by FrugalPac in order to reduce waste. While Costa is trialling in-store waste disposal. Since April they have also been donating 25p to anti-litter charities every time a customer uses a disposal cup. Pret-A-Manger has signed the Paper Cup Manifesto, an industry-wide initiative to improve collection and recycling of paper cups. Next time you need a caffeinated pick me up, make sure you know what their recycling policies are. Or, remember to bring your own cup!
It seems that for now, the best solution is reusable coffee cups. Hopefully, the 25p charge on single-use cups will encourage people to remember their own cup, or they’ll have to pay. However, many coffee shops are already offering incentives to people who bring their own cup, but uptake is only at 2%. It seems though people would rather pay the levy than have the “inconvenience” of carrying around a reusable cup all day.
Here at Billi, we’re doing everything we can to prevent plastic waste. Our taps provide instant chilled or boiling water, negating the need for plastic bottles, or disposable coffee cups. You can quickly make your favourite drink in seconds so no need to pick up a bottle or a coffee on the way into the office. Read more information on the Billi environmental stance.