UK cafes’ recycling rates for paper cups have been challenged, with estimates that 2.5 billion items are sent to landfill each year.
Simply Cups, the UK’s only recycling firm specialising in the material, recycles less than six million cups a year, which amounts to around only 0.25% of the UK total.
The company says that cup providers such as cafés have been under the misapprehension that used paper cups would be recycled when placed into a commingled recycling stream.
Poly-coated fibres used to manufacture the cups can no longer be placed into mixed recyclables and must be disposed of as general waste, according to the firm’s first annual report.
This ”challenges the validity of recycling rates claimed over previous years”, the report says.
“Since most consumers have been under the misapprehension that paper cups have always been recycled, behavioural change is required so that people understand that paper cups now need to be treated differently.”
The company provides a collection service so that segregated cups are reprocessed at one of two UK facilities (see below) where the plastic lining can be separated from the paper.
TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall took to the streets of London in his ’coffee cup battle bus’ (pictured) to highlight the problem, accusing major coffee firms Costa Coffee and Starbucks of having misleading messages about waste on their websites.
Costa’s website says: “Our paper cups come from card made of sustainable wood pulp from forests in northern Europe. The thermal cover is made of recycled content and the lid is 100% recyclable.”
Starbucks’ page admits it does not segregate paper cups from its dry mixed recyclables but says it will “continue to explore new ways to reduce our cup waste”.
“We want transparency and we want action from these companies,” Fearnley-Wittingstall said.
“Only by changing to a cup that is properly recyclable in the public waste disposal system, or by massively investing in new specialised facilities, can they justify the bold environmental claims they are making.”
Simply Cups now hopes its “commercially viable” service will expand to the mass market, with its price reducing after delivering operational efficiencies.
It sends its collected cups to be reprocessed either at James Cropper‘s plant in Kendal, Cumbria, or ACE UK’s facility in Stainland, Yorkshire.
Both plants, which opened in 2013, previously required the cups to be shredded by Simply Cups first, but their machinery has now been upgraded to handle unshredded cups, saving the collection company money.
Simply Cups plans to provide recycling bins for paper cups to its customers, preventing them from having to seperate them from general waste or mixed recycling bins.
The company is a joint venture between Closed Loop Environmental Solutions and Simply Waste Solutions.