As it moves into its second year, the Simply Cups paper recovery and recycling scheme has set its sights on ramping up the volume in the coming year.
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It has been a year since Simply Cups, the UK’s only paper cup recovery and recycling scheme, was launched in August 2014. The scheme, a partnership between Closed Loop Environmental Solutions (CLES) and Simply Waste Solutions, was set up to provide a cost-efficient collection and recycling service for the UK’s paper cup manufacturers, organisations operating in the supply chain and beverage and hospitality outlets.
With an estimated 2.5 billion paper cups used each year in the UK, and a coffee sector that has been outperforming the UK economy for the past few years, the scheme set its sights on tackling a waste stream that it believes will increase (see box).
In the past year, Simply Cups has amassed 20 members and recovered and recycled more than one million paper cups in the UK. Peter Goodwin, director of CLES, says: “It may be small in comparison [with the total amount of waste paper cups], but it is certainly one million more than we were recycling last year and it has given us a platform to build on.
“Our experience in the past 12 months has been invaluable, and we have now identified where the inefficiencies are and where we can make improvements.”
It is early days for Simply Cups, so the costs involved are fairly inefficient at present. But the aim is to improve through increasing both its member numbers and the material volumes it collects for reprocessing. To help with this, it has expanded its service offering to collect five more complementary materials from members for recycling: beverage cartons; paper towels; food service polypropylene (PP) and rigid polystyrene (PS) packaging; non-bottle PET; and coffee grounds.
The scheme has had good progress with its discussions with stakeholders, especially within the PS/PP cup sector for products generated by water coolers and vending machines, when paper cups are not used. Goodwin says that further discussions “with predominantly manufacturers and vending operators should result a specific PP/PS cup recovery solution that will broaden the offering to all cups used within the commercial sector”.
These extra materials are services that can be offered to the marketplace by Simply Waste Solutions but there will be a preferential rate for those that are part of the Simply Cups scheme.
Goodwin reports that the scheme has stimulated activity with one of the “major waste companies”, which he sees as a real positive: “The fact that a national waste contractor looks to put this as part of its strategy – or maybe feels threatened because customers are demanding something else – is really part of setting up the scheme in the first place.”
The focus for the next 12 months is very much on growing volumes to drive efficiencies. Goodwin says: “The more volume we can get to [reprocessors] Sonoco Alcore and James Cropper, the more we can start to work with this material to understand how to take the inefficiencies out of the process, and look to raise the gate price for the material because we are sitting at zero gate fee at the moment.”
“We need to create this market and we need to increase the value of this market. That is going to be a lot easier to do when we can guarantee 20-tonne loads going in on a weekly basis as opposed to a few tonnes here and a few tonnes there.”
The scheme’s ambition is to keep doubling its volumes year on year as a minimum, and it has launched a roadmap so that it has a clear vision of where it is going and how to get there. It hopes to end 2015 having collected three million cups for recycling in the year.
It has also thought about how to reach those in the marketplace it does not have the resources to get out and meet. It is developing a Simply Cups calculator for imminent launch, aimed at SMEs, so that businesses can work out themselves their cost savings for joining the scheme.
Goodwin explains: “We want to try to get small customers, who we might not have the resources to engage with, to plug into the calculator to say ‘I buy this many cups, at this price; and I have this number of bins; this goes in this waste stream’. If they can plug that in, we can show them the three ways in which they can save money, prove the saving and get them to engage and click through straight away.”
To encourage more organisations to join, Simply Cups is cutting its membership fees by 50% a year in a bid to boost the amount of material it can collect. It is also planning to offer a reduced membership fee for the education sector, a key market that it wants to crack into, as well as sporting and events venues.
Goodwin puts forward the case that the Simply Cups model is a ‘disruptive’ one that challenges the traditional waste model of charging a premium for collecting materials commingled and then separating them.
He says: “The Simply Cups model – an alternative solution to the waste industry – is saying that if you are willing to work with us and you are willing to segregate that material, we will actually by-pass the sorting facility. We will collect in multiple, dispersed volumes, we will then bulk and collect 20 tonnes loads and move it to the reprocessor.”
Goodwin believes that local infrastructure is crucial to making the circular economy a reality: “The Closed Loop roadmap is about creating markets, creating value and creating local infrastructure based on the premise that recovering the feedstock needs to be financially sustainable and simple for customers.”
He adds that once the scheme can secure larger volumes out of the waste stream and deliver these to reprocessors on a regular basis, there will come a ‘tipping point’ where widespread mechanical recovery will become feasible if contractors can see a business case for investing in a mechanical system to separate the material, which then commands a good price.
“We know the material is out there – what we need to do is create the markets. We need to get this feedstock and that will enable us to invest in technology.”
Goodwin believes that it is now time to go to the consumer for help with investing in the infrastructure needed for greater cup recovery and reprocessing, and the scheme has proposed to members launching a ‘roadmap cup’ to help it do this.
“It would be a design available to any manufacturer participating in the Simply Cups scheme. It means that when that product is sold to their customer, a percentage contribution goes into an independent fund to assist in the construction of technology. It isn’t a levy and it isn’t mandatory, it is an option for a customer,” he explains.
The idea is to market this as a programme that engages with the consumer, offering them the choice at point of purchase to pay a few more pence to buy their coffee in a cup that supports the recycling infrastructure. According to Goodwin, there is a similar fund working in the US, backed by retail giant Walmart: “Let’s be open to the customer, let’s get their help. If it is 1p or 2p, would they do it? It is giving the consumer the choice.”
While Simply Cups has generated interest in its first year, and even won an award, it has seen some customer apathy from those believing their cups are already being recycled, as well as issues with who owns the waste contracts in question and what existing terms are with current waste contractors.
For example, a food caterer or service provider may be interested in taking part in the scheme but may not own the waste contract. For other large facilities companies, for example, they may have global contracts and frameworks to work within, which makes it difficult to do localised projects. Other times, budgets may sit with the facilities management provider rather than the customer.
So there can be issues with different parts of the chain being more or less interested in becoming involved in such a scheme as Simply Cups. All of that is in addition to the effort needed to put in place the physical collection system for segregated cups (see operations box), as well as to educate those on-site on how to use the system, for what is still a fairly modest amount of the waste stream.
But the Simply Cups scheme has set itself clear aims for the next 12 months to build on its momentum in the first year. Now it is a case of engaging not just with customers who are passionate about the issue, but convincing the masses that there is a sound economic and environmental case for segregating their waste cups – and ensuring there is value in the material being collected.
Waste paper cup potential just from the coffee sector
- The coffee shop sector in 2014 had £7.2bn in turnover and 18,832 outlets. Forecasts for 2020 suggest the sector will have a turnover of £16.5bn and 27,000 outlets
- In 2014, the sector had sales growth of 10.7%
- 1 in 5 consumers now visit coffee shops daily compared with 1 in 9 in 2009
- Coffee shop visitors drink on average per week three cups in coffee shops, six cups at work and 10 cups at home