Hundreds of thousands Britons are faithfully putting their paper coffee cups into the recycling bin every day – unaware that those cups are virtually unrecyclable.
The British are a nation of caffeine addicts – much like the Italians and the Americans – and on any given morning you can see people clutching coffee-based beverages in their cardboard vessels.
That adds up to more than 7 million cups a day, or 2.5 billion a year, and no-one is taking responsibility for the horrendous waste. Most consumers assume a paper cup is an eco-friendly choice, and coffee companies are perfectly happy to keep it that way, even putting ‘recyclable’ on the cup.
Technically, this is true, but to make these cups waterproof, the card is fused with polyethylene, and this material cannot be separated out again in a standard recycling mill. There are in fact only two specialist mills in the country which can recycle these – and one of them has never actually dealt with a single paper cup. The other has only processed a tiny number.
To make this worse, these cups can’t even be made with recycled paper in the first place; the way that they are made means that one thin seam of card on the inside of the cup is in contact with the hot liquid, so they have to be made from virgin paper pulp.
The Costa Coffee website, misleadingly, describes their cups as ‘eco-friendly’, which is clearly a travesty of inaccuracy, and gives the unhelpful headline ‘great taste without the waste’. Their justification is that the wood pulp used is sustainable, and that there are ‘a number’ of locations across the UK where the cups can be recycled. Technically correct; but that number is only two.
Frustratingly, a fully recyclable paper cup already exists, which can also be made from recycled paper. Inventor Martin Myerscough says that interest is not that high, however. Starbucks have announced ‘interest’ in testing these new cups, but other coffee retailers are apparently uncaring – despite their PR people earnestly expressing their commitment to “look into” the cup waste issue.
It doesn’t take much to make a change when consumer pressure is high, however, as previous campaigns have seen. It’s up to us to make the change.