Although there is a growing interest and increased discussion of disposable cup waste, there still seems to be a confused message between the coffee industry, waste industry and the consumers.
‘An estimated 2.5bn throwaway coffee cups are used in the UK every year by consumers buying coffee from chains and cafes, creating approximately 25,000 tonnes of waste.’
Can I recycle a disposable cup?
The cardboard sleeves that allow you to hold your coffee are recyclable, often displaying the green recycling logo which can make you believe the entire cup is recyclable.
However the cup itself is lined with plastic which makes it waterproof. Unfortunately standard recycling facilities are unable to remove this layer from the cardboard and so if you do put this in your recycling it will eventually end up in landfill and potentially beas a contaminate to recyclable materials.
What is being done?
Last year the Lib Dems urged for an introduction of a 5p charge on disposable cups - much like the plastic bag charge. Although Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey dismissed the need, declaring that cafes were already doing enough in order to tackle the issue.
But what are they doing? The Square Mile Challenge works with cafes and organisations around London by providing collection points where you can drop off your cup to be recycled
'All coffee cups collected for the #SquareMileChallenge will be recycled. There are two ways, the first shreds the whole coffee cup, processing it into a resin which is mixed with recycled plastic to create a new mouldable plastic material. This can then be made into a range of products such as picnic benches, trays and coasters. The second involves separating the plastic lining and paper in the coffee cup, so the plastic can be removed and fibres can be recovered and made into products like cardboard containers.'
Some coffee shops have waste disposable contracts with people like Veolia that will collect and recycle coffee cups. This does mean holding on to your cup and bringing it back to the shop. If your not sure if your cafe has this facility you can ask them directly.
The Frugalpac cup claims to be recyclable with existing waste management systems and so eliminating the need for expensive and confusing disposable contracts - meaning you can simply pop it in a recycling bin when your finished. Although this cup is not completely plastic free, it is made so that the plastic is easier to separate at its end of life.
Bring your own
The answer that seems so obvious yet is often over looked in the media is to bring your own coffee cup - and encourage others to do the same. Initiatives often run in cafes and so you will also be saving money, quickly reinsuring you for the purchase your reusable cup. These appear to alter depending on your location but from my experience..
- Cafe Nero - 2 stamps on your loyalty card
All of the independent cafes I have used my reusable cup from have been more than happy to accommodate and usually add a form of discount also.
An obvious way of avoiding waste, however Pret do not have the option of ceramic cups, using disposable coffee cups for drinkers both in and taking away. For a cafe that appears on the ball in progressive movements - having just introduced reusable water bottles in to their veggie Pret branches, it is very disappointing. In response to my questioning Pret replied;
"We're working on a trial to increase cup recycling & pursuing potential material changes. We'll have more info to share soon."
Let's hope that initiatives are introduced quickly and responsibility is held with not just the customers but organisations also.