Despite the little recycling symbol on many disposable coffee or tea cups, they are not as recyclable as we thought.
(Scroll down for the list that applies in the UK)
Why use a reusable coffee cup?
Many are constantly on the go, so many opt for those take away single use, ‘recyclable’ cups, multiple times a day, almost every single day.
In 2011, an estimated 2.5 billion coffee cups were thrown away each year and based on this, coupled with the forecasted addition of the number of coffee shops in the UK, by 2025, 3.75 billion disposable coffee cups will be used per year.
These figures were calculated by The Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group are err on the side of optimism as Eunomia Research and Consulting suggested that the UK were already using as much as 5 billion coffee cups a year back in 2016…
The inner lining of disposable cups, made of a mix of polyethylene and paper, makes it difficult to recycle. This is supposed to make it heat and leakproof, which it does (most of them time) but in the UK, only a few specialist plants are able to recycle them, resulting in around 99.75% of used cups not getting recycled.
So yes, they are recyclable, but the process itself is not as widely practiced as other recyclables.
First of all, it all begins with the person who drank from the cup to dispose of it properly: in the appropriate recycling bin. The journey of this little cup is far too long and is exposed to too many variables to ensure that it will in fact be recycled. (Read more about why sustainability goes beyond recycling here.)
The rise in reusables
Then again, surely you’ve seen some walking around with these cool looking coffee cups?
Many popular cafés now offer discounts if you use your reusable cup.
Discounts for using a reusable cup when you take away?!
Pret à Manger – 50p
The discount for using a reusable doubled since January 2018, which increased the number of their customers using reusable cups by a 10 fold!
Paul – 50p
A reusable Paul cup is available for £3.50 here or they can be bought in store.
Greggs – 20p
They’ve even got their own Greggs’ cups for £2 and you’ll get a free hot drink if you buy one. Although, we’re not sure how a reusable cup only ends up costing £2?
Caffè Nero – Double loyalty stamps
Ok, maybe this is not a discount but double loyalty stamps are a clear incentive.
Partnered with KeepCup.
Starbucks – 25p
During February to May in 2018, a trial was conducted across 35 Starbucks stores in London, charging 5p to customers using the disposable paper cup. The funds raised from the 5p charge will be used to support Hubbub, who hope to inspire healthier, greener lifestyles across fashion, food, homes and neighbourhoods.
These paper cups should now be available in many other stores across the UK now – look out for a sticker in the window announcing it.
Of course, they also sell reusable cups of their own and have been doing so for years and have been offering a discount for those who bring their own since 1985, although it seems like this only applied in the US (This is to be confirmed after doing more research).
Costa – 25p
This applies to hot or cold hand crafted drinks!
Partnered with Barclaycard, they’ve launched the UK’s first reusable contactless coffee cup – allowing you to track your spending, the amount of cups you have not used and it’s convenient. It’s called the Clever Cup. It is priced at £14.99, with a £1 donation from every sale going to The Costa Foundation, which aims to improve access to quality education in coffee growing communities.
By 2020, Costa aims to recycle up to 500 million coffee cups a year – approximately Costa’s entire yearly sales. They also pay a supplement of £70 for every tonne of cups collected by national waste collectors.
Learn more about their commitments here.
Don’t forget to say whether you’d like it to take away or not, as sometimes single use cups are automatically given, rather than a china mug!