How is it recycled?

takeaway cups


Background

In the UK there are approximately seven million disposable takeaway cups used every single day.  This amounts to 2.5 billion every year, with only 1 in 400 currently being recycled. 

Recycling takeaway cups poses a real challenge because of the way they are made.  An inner plastic liner is tightly bonded to the paper to make the cups both heat and leak-proof. This means the cups cannot be recycled in standard recycling plants. 

At the moment, there are three specialist recycling plants in the UK that can recycle these cups. However, there is a lack of infrastructure for collecting and transporting the cups to these facilities.  These logistic issues contribute significantly to the small percentage of cups currently being recycled.  



The Challenge


Although the UK generates a large quantity of waste coffee cups every year, the three existing plants have sufficient capacity to recycle this waste. The challenge lies in setting up a collection infrastructure to efficiently and economically collect the cups and transport then to the plants for recycling.


The Solution

Many coffee shop chains and other similar types of organisations have introduced on-site recycling collection points for cups.  This is a great start, and would appear to instantly provide a network of recycling collection points.  However, the reality is that a takeaway coffee is not going to be consumed in the coffee shop!  It will more likely be taken away and consumed on the way to the office, strolling round the park, at transport hubs and various other on-the-go locations.   

To help address this issue a new initiative has been launched to help capture coffee cups from these types of locations and significantly increase the quantity of coffee cups collected for recycling.

The initiative will involve producers of coffee cups such as Costa Coffee supporting the UK’s largest waste collectors to increase the roll out of collection points for coffee cups across the UK in workplaces and on-the-go type locations.  Through this initiative Costa aims to recycle up to 500 million coffee cups a year by 2020.

If you would like further information about this initiative please click here



Misconceptions Surrounding Recycling

About 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are thrown away each year in the UK and 99.75% are not recycled.

They have a mixture of paper and plastic in their inner lining - designed to make them both heat- and leak-proof.

Costa said "misconceptions" had arisen about whether a coffee cup could be recycled because of the plastic layer, which had "previously been considered difficult to separate".

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-43801491

It's the mixture of paper and plastic in their inner lining - designed to make them both heat and leakproof - that causes difficulties.

There are currently only a small number of specialist plants in the UK able to process the disposable used cups, and as a result, the vast majority of them (more than 99.75%) don't get recycled.

In 2011 it was estimated that 2.5 billion coffee cups were thrown away each year and that figure is likely to be higher now.

Industry body the Paper Cup Alliance says the specialist plants that do have the technology already have the capacity to recycle all the cups we throw away - it's the infrastructure to transport them there that's currently lacking.

Source: https://www.whitbread.co.uk/media/press-releases/2018/news-content 

Perhaps the biggest issue with disposable coffee cups is the disconnect between their alleged recyclability and the rate at which they are actually recycled.

Cups are technically recyclable, something that some coffee companies actively promote on their packaging. 

However, due to the complicated way in which they are produced, the vast majority of coffee cups do not end up being recycled.

Though they are made largely of paper, disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic polyethylene, which is tightly bonded to the paper making the cups waterproof and therefore able to contain liquid.

In addition, the difficulty of recycling coffee cups is increased by the fact they are contaminated with drink.

This means cups cannot be recycled at standard recycling plants, and must instead be taken to special facilities – only three of which exist in the UK. 

The reality is that less than 1 per cent of coffee cups ever end being recycled.

Source:


It's the mixture of paper and plastic in their inner lining - designed to make them both heat and leakproof - that causes difficulties.

There are currently only a small number of specialist plants in the UK able to process the disposable used cups, and as a result, the vast majority of them (more than 99.75%) don't get recycled.

In 2011 it was estimated that 2.5 billion coffee cups were thrown away each year and that figure is likely to be higher now.

Industry body the Paper Cup Alliance says the specialist plants that do have the technology already have the capacity to recycle all the cups we throw away - it's the infrastructure to transport them there that's currently lacking.