In the UK it is estimated that we drink around 70 million cups of coffee per day and 2/3 of us tend to buy from coffee shops rather than make our own at home. It is estimated that if you placed all the paper cup used in the UK in one year end-to-end, they would go around the world 5 and ½ times! While this trend is good for our highstreets, in 2012 the estimated turnover for coffee shops was £5.8 billion, there is a growing environmental issue. Less than 1% of paper cups are being recycled, with most ending up in landfill.
One of the main issues is with the composition of the cups themselves. As they are made from a combination of paper and plastic, they have to undergo special treatment in order to separate the paper for recycling. At the moment there are only 2 facilities in the UK that can do this process, and while they are hoping to expand in the next few years, they are currently struggling to meet the demand.
This composition also makes the cups difficult to sort when recycling. Due to the plastic liner they cannot be placed in paper recycling and they aren’t always filtered correctly when mixed recycling is sorted. There is also an issue with contamination, as items often need to be clean and dry before they are recycled. This sometimes means that even if the cups are put in the correct recycling bin, they still end up in landfill.
There have been calls from campaigners for a tax on disposable cups, similar to the one introduced on plastic bags in October, as a way of encouraging the use of reusable cups. However the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has released a statement that there are currently no plans for a tax.
One of the easiest ways to tackle this issue is to use a reusable cup when ordering take-away coffee. Starbucks has even introduced a 25p discount on drinks if you bring your own cup (and it doesn’t have to be Starbucks branded!). There are many types of reusable cups available to buy in high street and online stores, which many people claim even help improve the flavour of the coffee!
British Coffee Association: http://www.britishcoffeeassociation.org/about_coffee/coffee_facts/
Simply Cups: http://www.simplycups.co.uk/