Blog #7

Blog #7

The Coffee Cup Conundrum: Combatting the Single-Use Mindset

Many of us are now aware that paper coffee cups are not recyclable, meaning they go into general waste and end up in landfill. It’s a wasteful habit, with around 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups being used in the UK each and every year!

If you want to reduce your impact on the plant, cutting down on waste is an important step to take – and coffee cups are a great place to start. Single-use cup recycling is becoming a more common practice thanks to various initiatives, although it’s still not as commonplace as we would like. As with any practices that will help the planet, you can make a big difference if you think ahead and consider your actions a little more carefully. It doesn’t have to be hard work, and it could actually save you some money.

Why are coffee cups not recycled?

Coffee cups are actually incredibly difficult to recycle, which is why so many of them end up in landfill. They are made from a mixture of paper and plastic, and there is a lining that makes the cups heatproof and resistant to leaks. The specialist plants required to recycle these materials are few and far between, resulting in the vast majority of single-use coffee cups going into landfill.

What problems do single use coffee cups pose to our oceans?

It’s easy for waste like coffee cups to end up in our oceans. They’re so lightweight that they can easily be blown away during transportation to landfill – and that’s if they are thrown away in the first place. Sadly, littering is still a big issue as well.

The plastic element of coffee cups is a real concern for marine life and, ultimately, for us. As it breaks down, it forms tiny microplastic fragments that can be ingested by animals and that are often toxic. Even the paper element has environmental implications, as trees are being felled for a product that isn’t usually recycled.

Light at the end of the tunnel – coffee cup recycling schemes

Luckily, there are now steps being taken to reduce waste from coffee cups and get more of them recycled.

Last month, Chiltern Railways launched a new coffee cup recycling scheme at Marylebone station. This will allow people to separate out their waste so that it can be recycled effectively, with the aim of recycling around 300,000 cups each year. They will be recycled by Simply Cups, who offer the only dedicated recycling service of this nature, using waste to make items such as pens, notebooks and reusable cups.

The Environment Audit Committee support the idea of wider coffee cup recycling, and are calling for all coffee cups to be recycled by 2023. They also recommended that the government impose a 25p tax, dubbed the ‘latte levy’, on disposable coffee cups. However, this was rejected by the government as they claimed that it was better for shops to give voluntary incentives to customers who bring their own cups. The Environment Audit Committee disagree, saying that “evidence to our inquiry demonstrated that charges work better than discounts for reducing the use of non-recyclable materials – as was the case with the plastic bag charge. By choosing to favour voluntary discounts for reusable cups, the Government is ignoring the evidence about what works.”

It is possible that some retailers could be taking matters into their own hands; Starbucks have started applying a 5p charge to disposable cups. But it’s clearly not enough, and the fact that we’re still using billions of these cups a year shows there’s much more that needs to be done.

Choosing reusable coffee cups for your daily brew

Coffee cup recycling schemes like the one at Marylebone are a brilliant step forward, helping to dispose of coffee cups far more responsibly. But wouldn’t it be great if there was no waste at all? The best thing that we can do for the environment is to buy a reusable coffee cup – and remember to take it with us whenever we might fancy a brew! Coffee shops are happy to put your takeaway drinks into reusable cups, so invest in a cup you love (there is a range of designs available) and make sure you have it with you every time you go out, just in case. Why not make a habit of putting it in your reusable bag so you remember to take that with you as well?!

Did you know that choosing a reusable coffee cup could also save you money? Many coffee shops in the UK will give customers money off when they bring in their own reusable cups. Some of the businesses offering this financial incentive are:

  • Pret a Manger
  • Starbucks
  • Costa Coffee
  • Greggs
  • Caffe Nero (they will offer you more loyalty stamps)

At GreenSeas Trust, we are all for any idea that aims to change people’s behaviour. We’re completely behind more recycling, and we’re completely behind reusable options that mean no recycling’s needed. This is why our #BinForGreenSeas will make such a difference, helping to prevent waste like coffee cups entering the ocean. Learn a little more about it, and how our work is reducing plastic waste for healthier seas and thriving marine life.