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Home News Lifting the lid on coffee cup recycling

Britain’s use of take-out coffee cups and how consumers dispose of them is an issue that has long been discussed within our industry. Over recent weeks though, debate surrounding the impact of disposable cups on the environment has taken centre stage within the mainstream media with our CEO Phil Wild being interviewed about our CupCycling™ solution on national news programmes.

Coffee culture is thriving, with many of us purchasing multiple on-the-go drinks of our favourite caffeine pick-me-up each day, leading to an estimated 3 billion coffee cups being used annually, but only a fraction of these being recycled.

Britain’s love of takeaway coffee shows no signs of diminishing, so it’s vital that we look to reduce the environmental impact of disposable cups. However, it must be recognised that coffee cups are well designed for their purpose and are absolutely recyclable if disposed of in the correct way.

The Environment Audit Committee’s (EAC) estimate that just one in 400 cups are disposed of correctly isn’t a problem rooted in technology, but one that comes down to a lack of sufficient infrastructure and consumer education.

We’ve developed the technology to recycle disposable paper cups on a commercial scale, and we’ve played an integral role in the creation of a supply chain for disposable cups by partnering with waste management companies, coffee chains and restaurants, enabling cup waste to be turned into beautiful papers. CupCycling™ is a working example of the circular economy in action and how collaboration between businesses can lead to successful outcomes for both industry and the environment.

The processes required to recycle these cups are already in place, but if we’re to meet the EAC’s 2023 ambition for all single-use coffee cups to be recycled, Britain requires continued investment in nationwide recycling initiatives.

We need to build on the platform that has already been created so we can collectively instil a change in consumer habits and tackle a longstanding environmental concern.

Coffee cups provide a rich source of high quality material, which we’re able to upcycle into a wide range of useful products, including luxury packaging. Seeing this go to waste on a huge scale is what led us to invest in and develop our CupCycling™ technology which is only one of only two facilities in the UK with the capability to recycle coffee cups.

Working with Veolia waste management, we’ve established cup collection stations within high street restaurants and retailers such as Costa, McDonalds and Selfridges. The cups are delivered to our mill and, using our technology, the polyethylene lining and paper are separated before the paper fibre is rescued and turned into fine papers.

We’re using this process to upcycle coffee cups into luxurious papers such as the iconic yellow Selfridges bags and the Extract paper range for specialist paper merchant G . F Smith. For example, each sheet of 380gsm Extract paper contains 5 used coffee cups, and with 10 colours to choose from designers can order the exact sheet quantities required for creative projects from stock.

Despite the CupCycling™ facility’s capability to upcycle 500 million cups per year, at the moment we’re using a fraction of its capacity.

The secret to a more sustainable future for coffee cups lies in a collective commitment across society – from consumers, retailers, waste management companies, local authorities, the Government and beyond. Investment in improved infrastructure will ensure a more joined-up approach, leading to a greater level of cups being disposed of correctly and given another life.

This week, we received a single cup in the post from a coffee lover keen to ensure their morning latte didn’t leave a mark on the planet. This demonstrates that an enthusiasm for recycling is very much present among consumers, but confusion around how best to do so remains.

It shouldn’t cost the price of a stamp to recycle a coffee cup. It should become standard practice – something we do without thinking – and we’re confident we can achieve this. All we need is for consumers, corporations and supply chain developers nationwide to wake up and smell the coffee. Are you ready?