A couple of weeks ago, we published Office coffee cup recycling made easy for facilities managers and caterers here on the coffee blog. It details an excellent scheme - the Coffee Cup Drop Box - to help Britain’s businesses recycle their disposable coffee cups, usually from coffee vending machines but open to those takeaway cups office workers bring back from lunch, too. While we all know that coffee cup recycling is tricky because of the challenge in separating the plastic polyethylene inner coating, what many people don’t know is that a single recovered paper recycling mill in Kent, owned by DS Smith, has the technology and capacity to handle the UK’s entire disposable cup usage. The real issue is in collecting the cups themselves – the recycling infrastructure.
The Coffee Cup Drop Box was one of 12 infrastructure-related schemes to be awarded a grant of between £50,000 and £100,000 from behaviour change charity Hubbub’s The Cup Fund, a fund dedicated to boosting coffee cup recycling. Ultimately, Hubbub wants to introduce coffee cup recycling facilities in more than 70 places around the UK, supported by 36 organisations. The 12 winners announced earlier in September included programmes in Brixton, Camden, Southbank, offices and three universities in London, plus city-wide recycling schemes in Bristol, Northampton, Oxford and York, at retail parks in Nottinghamshire and at service stations in Gloucestershire and Cumbria, all in addition to the nationwide Coffee Cup Drop Box scheme.
For the first time, it feels like real progress is being made. An estimated 7.7 million coffee cups are used and not recycled every day in Britain. While we always advocate that coffee shops and businesses should actively promote the use of reusable coffee cups to customers and staff, changing people’s habits takes time. Even people who invest in those cups often forget to take them out with them and end up resorting to cups which end up in landfill.
The schemes emerging with the aid of Hubbub’s funding can start to make a significant difference. Yet it still means the businesses supplying those coffee cups – the coffee shops, takeaways, bean-to-cup machine hosts such as service stations, leisure centres and all sorts of businesses – need to step up and join in. Contact your local BID (business improvement district), town centre initiative offices or even local councils to see if there’s already a collection scheme in place. If there isn’t, get together with like-minded local businesses and collaborate. Put your heads together and take the initiative. Because if coffee cup recycling isn’t already planned or in place for your area – you can help bring it yourselves.