Zero Waste Coffee
A Grande Issue
Coffee cups are becoming a hot topic in the world of recycling. As the issue pours into mainstream media, the public are grasping the complexities of the challenge. Many groups, including the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group, have raised the profile of the coffee cup conundrum. Their work has highlighted the scale of the issue, but they have also explained why this form of recycling is particularly challenging.
The reason this problem has become so prevalent recently is because of the scale of the problem. In 2011 it was estimated 2.5 billion cups were made and disposed of. The figure equates to 30,000 tonnes of waste, the vast majority of which goes to landfill. When you compare the astronomical figures of cups made and binned to the figure of cups recycled, you begin to understand the challenge facing the UK.
For every 400 cups produced, 1 is recycled. Yes, less than 0.25% of coffee cups are recycled for a whole range of reasons. Getting to grips with the problem is essential and with 7 million cups used daily, the time to act is now. Another negative knock-on effect is the resulting litter from the disposable culture, with 500,000 cups discarded as litter on a daily basis.
What’s in a cup?
The stats are staggering, there’s no denying that, but the issue is a multi-faceted one. The cups themselves, like the lattes and flat whites they hold, are made from more than one ingredient. As well as a card exterior, coffee cups are also sealed inside using plastic. The lining prevents the cups from being too warm and from leaking, both essential cup features. The lid, usually made from another plastic, presents its own challenge. These hybrid cups are ‘technically recyclable’ but the reality is, they cannot be widely recycled in the UK.
Solutions & frustrations
If there is any hope of overcoming coffee cup waste, a multi-pronged approach must be adopted. A better-informed public is a great start, but highlighting the issue raises problems. At present, the specialist bins where coffee cups are recycled exist in carparks and not in high streets. Separating the cause and solution will only frustrate the public further.
Another cause of frustration for the public is the ‘latte levy’, as the tax will only be deemed a success if people begin to note a decline in the tonnes of cups bound for landfill. Governments will also need to improve the availability of mixed recycling in public places. Hi-tech, sophisticated recycling plants like that at ReGen are few and far between. Advances like those made in mixed dry recyclables are vital in decreasing landfill volumes globally and creating a better environment. Zero waste coffee is an achievable goal, but one that needs a lot of hard work.