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Operational learnings from the ground

Simply Cups’ first year of operation has brought with it significant operational learning, both at customer sites and with the reprocessors.

Material is collected by Simply Waste Solutions (SWS), separately, using a light blue bag. This allows the company to collect mainly using a van or on a compaction vehicle. By being in a specific colour bag, the paper cup waste stream is identifiable at the point of processing, so it can be pulled to one side and stored.

James Capel, SWS managing director, explains: “We have found that, despite the fact that the customer is responsible for providing us with a clean stream of waste, there are different levels of understanding of what a ‘single stream’ actually is. You would imagine that most people know what a coffee cup is but, if you look in our bags, there will be all types of material in there.

“That becomes a problem for our reprocessor, so we have had to introduce a rudimentary grading system to clean up the waste to make sure it is paper cups. Once we have graded the material – which is a very labour-intensive process – we then bale it and store the material until we have a significant load to take to a shredding plant. They will shred it and will send the material to the reprocessor.

“At that point the material is reprocessed for free, which is great, but there are significant costs, clearly, in getting it to that point.”

About 40% of the cost is in collection and transport; 20% is in storage, grading, baling and storage again; and the other 40% is the shredding and re-baling.

Capel says: “Without doubt there are some real inefficiencies in the system, and we are aware of them, but we are working towards getting some of those out of the system.”

He adds that the current cost for collecting and processing the cups is broadly the same at that to deal with general waste. So by trying to get some of the inefficiencies out of the system and reduce the cost of collecting and processing cups, there will be a more distinct commercial advantage to taking them out of the waste stream.

Stacking cups has been found to be an effective way of collection, resulting in 500 12oz cups being able to fit into a sack versus 70 loose cups. This also produces cleaner material, reduces labour costs for emptying bins and reduces collection costs. “We have found that when you stack the cups, the cost will sit somewhere between the cheapest mixed recycling service and the most expensive general waste service – and there is still work to be done,” says Capel.

Trials have been run at the Barclays bank head office in Canary Wharf and another is taking place at Brunel University, both in London. Capel says: “There are a number of learnings there to be gleaned from those projects. We found that placement of bins is key: they have to be placed where the waste is being produced. The problem and difficulty sometimes with coffee cups is that they are very mobile and people tend to move with them.”

Simply Cups has found that coffee cup bins ideally need to be placed next to a mixed recycling bin and a general waste bin, so that people can put their cup in one bin, their lid in another and stirring stick in another.

“We are looking at capture rates in certain buildings and how we can maximise the opportunity. We are looking at ways in which we communicate that information to clients and get the engagement process going so that people understand ‘why am I recycling my coffee cup?’”

Capel says the challenges tend to be different depending on the type of location, for example universities and sporting venues. He adds that, even within the same organisations, there can be very different mindsets between different floors of an office or department.

“Generally, even when cups are not stacked, they need to be shredded and there is some debate as to how much shredding they need to go through. Perhaps shredding them too fine interferes with the fibres and therefore makes it less recoverable; there are also issues with the polyethylene lining coming out of the process at the wrong point.”

He explains that there is a balance to be struck between customer engagement and ensuring that the quality of the captured material is correct, as well as the state of material needed by the reprocessor so that it can be reprocessed in a commercial way.

On contamination, Capel says: “As a supplier of material to the end reprocessor, we would only ever be as good as our worst customer, and our worst customer is probably not going to be that great. We need to be mindful of that so a grading process has to take place, which is unfortunate for the people that really get it right because it adds cost to the whole process. Then again, the more volume that goes through something like this, the cheaper it gets pro rota.”

While Simply Cups is currently operating in London, it believes there is no reason it cannot operate further afield. SWS trucks do not currently operate nationally, but it is considered feasible that it could use a third party contractor to facilitate the scheme in areas it does not cover itself. 

  • Cups

    Operational learnings from the ground

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