The City of London Corporation, in conjunction with Network Rail, coffee chains and some employers, are introducing dedicated coffee cup recycling facilities in offices, shops and streets.

Wendy Mead, chair of the corporation’s environment committee, said the aim of the Square Mile challenge was to recycle half a million cups in April, adding that the City “will be the first area in the UK to undertake such a significant commitment” to recycling.

Every day in the UK, up to 7m coffee cups are thrown away, with less than 1% of these cups (only 1 in 400 coffee cups) thought to be recycled. The main challenge to date has been the plastic film lining the paper cups, which means they are rarely recyclable.

Previous cup recycling schemes have been conducted on a much smaller scale. Gavin Ellis, co-founder of environmental charity Hubbub, said the scheme built on a much smaller pilot in Manchester, where 20,000 cups had been recycled from one street over three months: “We hope to reach a point where recycling levels for coffee cups are on a par with those for drinks cans and bottles.”

The first 30 businesses with more than 500 employees to sign up to the Square Mile challenge will receive a year’s free membership to collection services provided by Simply Cups, while all other businesses involved can access discounted rates for collections. The coffee cups collected can be remade into a range of items, from pencils to park benches, which will be donated to local community projects and schools. Insurance broker Lloyd’s has signed up.

Simply Cups is currently working with Costa, Pret a Manger and McDonald’s, collecting cups from a few of their stores on a trial basis. Last month, Costa announced it was expanding its coffee cup recycling trial scheme, collecting used cups in its 2,000 stores, which are picked up by waste management company Veolia to be recycled in a specialist plant. Meanwhile, Starbucks is trialling a fully recyclable coffee cup – the Frugalpac – which could eventually divert huge numbers of cups away from landfill.

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