The Square Mile Challenge will see more than 100 high street coffee retailers, such as Caffé Nero, Costa and Starbucks, offer recycling facilities and accept coffee cups in their stores, regardless of where they were purchased.

Meanwhile, the offices of 34 City-based companies, including the likes of Lloyd’s and Deloitte, will be used to collect paper coffee cups, helping divert them in into a new waste stream.

The project will be led by environmental charity Hubbub, in collaboration with recycling company Simply Cups, with involvement from Network Rail and the City of London Corporation. It is hoped that 5 million cups will be collected and recycled by the end of the year.

Hubbub co-founder Gavin Ellis said: “We are delighted that so many organisations, including the local authority, Network Rail and businesses that are usually in competition with each other, are collaborating to tackle this issue. We hope that other parts of the UK will follow suit and eventually reach a point where recycling levels for coffee cups are on a par with those for drinks cans and bottles.

“It would be easy to suggest that everyone should use reusable cups for our hot drinks, but the reality is that disposable cups are being used in their millions and so we have to deliver a solution to this issue. Alongside their participation in the development of recycling solutions, it’s great to see that many retailers are also now providing discounts for customers using reusable cups and are investigating finding long-term solutions to ensure cups can be more widely recycled in the UK”.

Cleaning the capital

More than 5,000 coffee cups are discarded every minute in the UK, but less than 1% are actually recycled due to a plastic lining on the interior of the cups which can’t be collected by local councils. The recycling methods used for the Square Mile Challenge will process the cups to create either a plastic or recovered fibre material which is made into new products.

Square Mile Challenge bins in the shape of bright yellow coffee cups will be in place on the City’s streets and cups will be collected at both Liverpool Street and Cannon Street stations during rush hour every week day throughout the month. The scheme builds on a much smaller pilot in Manchester, where 20,000 cups had been recycled from one street over three months.

Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy Shirley Rodrigues commented: “Until now there has been no consistent, reliable way to recycle coffee cups in the heart of London and so the Square Mile Challenge is a big step forward.  We’re committed to making London cleaner, reducing waste and boosting recycling. I hope this scheme is a success and will encourage local authorities and businesses to start recycling coffee cups across the capital.”

In a recent blog written exclusively for edie, circular economy experts Libby Sandbrook (BITC) and Debbie Hitchen (Anthesis) explained that they expect the challenge to succeed in meeting its target of recycling five million paper cups by the end of the year because it is working in a high density population area in a small geographic region. The pair wrote that stakeholders are hopeful this will create a model that can be quickly rolled out across other city centres.

Coffee cup conundrum

The scheme arrives less than a week after research showed the use of disposable coffee cups could be reduced by up to 300 million annually. The Cardiff University study found that financial incentives, re-usable alternatives, and clear messaging reminding customers of the environmental impact of single use coffee cups all had a direct impact on consumer behaviour. A combination of all increased the use of reusable cups in one cafe from 5.1% to 17.4%, the project found.

The war on packaging waste entered Westminster this month as MPs have launched a fresh inquiry into the environmental impact of plastic bottle and coffee cup waste. The Liberal Democrats have urged the Government to impose a 5p charge similar to that levied on plastic bags.

Retailers, meanwhile, have ramped up efforts to increase recycling rates and explore innovative ways to reduce waste from coffee cup packaging. Costa Coffee has led the charge towards circularity in the coffee industry, with the recent rollout of a pioneering cup recycling scheme to more than 2,000 of its stores across the UK.

Rival chain Starbucks has also introduced its own in-store recycling bins for paper cups. Earlier this year, edie reported on a new initiative at the Canary Wharf estate which has seen the property, retail and waste management sectors come together to recycle and re-use coffee cups.

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie