Costa goes nationwide with in-store coffee cup recycling scheme

Coffee shop chain Costa Coffee has taken a huge step forward in the war on waste coffee cups with the rollout of a pioneering cup recycling scheme to more than 2,000 of its stores across the UK.

The Whitbread-owned retailer today (7 February) confirmed the full launch of the scheme, following a successful coffee cup recycling trial which took place across 45 Costa stores in London and Manchester last year.

Instead of using traditional front-of-house recycling bins, Costa is now encouraging customers to leave their coffee cups on the side or hand them into a barista, where they will be taken back-of-house by Costa staff and stored upside down on dedicated racks, to ensure they are free from contamination.

The cups are then backhauled by Costa’s logistics partner Kuehne & Nagel to be sent on to one of Veolia’s commercial hubs. Here, they are baled up ready for treatment at paper pulping facilities, which recover the fibre and separate the polymer plastic liner from the cup. The cups are pulped and eventually turned into moulded fibre products such as coffee cup holders and egg boxes, completing the circular economy process.

Costa’s energy and environment manager Ollie Rosevear explained that the back-of-house recycling process will ensure that “any cup” from Costa or any of its competitors can be recycled, as it overcomes the critical challenge of contamination.

“From the trials, we found that many of the cups deposited by customers in front-of-house bins were contaminated,” Rosevear told edie. “Using the racks back of house, we can guarantee that the cups are drained out and well-presented so that they can be recycled properly.

Raising awareness

From the trial in London and Manchester, Rosevear revealed that around 14% of takeaway sales were being recovered and recycled – significantly higher than the less-than-1% average recovery rate across the UK. Costa’s environment manager expects this figure to be “much bigger” in the future as consumer awareness increases.

Today’s announcement comes less than a year after the highly complex issue of coffee cup recycling was brought to light by celebrity chef-turned environmental campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his Hugh’s War on Waste TV programme.

Costa was singled out by Fearnley-Whittingstall as one of the retailers that had been “misleading” customers when it came to their cups being recyclable, and Rosevear believes the programme has helped to encourage Costa and other retailers to step up their circular economy efforts.

“[Hugh’s War on Waste] highlighted the industry-wide issue that not enough cups were being recycled and it refocused the business to do more,” Rosevear said. “We had done a lot in the area of coffee cup recycling already, but the programme helped the business to refocus and make sure we’re recycling more, so it was a positive thing.”

Sustainability leader 

Around the time that the Hugh’s War on Waste programme aired, Costa committed to replace the Mobius Loop symbol – the three arrows in a triangle – with the iconic ‘Tidy Man’ logo on its coffee cups, in a bid to encourage more consumers to responsibly dispose of their cups. This has ignited a series of pledges made by the retailer in the first quarter of 2017 as part of plans to “lead the industry” in the fight against coffee cup waste.

Costa is also now offering 25p off a hot or cold drink for customers that bring a re-usable cup into its stores; and in April it will begin selling a selection of own-branded, re-usable cups. Meanwhile, the chain has been conducting independent research with Sheffield University to further investigate cup recyclability, with the results expected next month.

Costa Coffee was among the winners of edie’s 2017 Sustainability Leaders Awards, scooping the accolade in the energy management category.

Infographic: Costa’s circular economy for coffee cups

Luke Nicholls

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