DS Smith to expand coffee cup recycling scheme following UK success

Mainland Europe is one of the world's largest coffee-to-go markets

The coffee cup scheme was first introduced by DS Smith at its Kemsley Paper Mill in Kent in 2017. Since its foundation, the proportion of coffee cups recycled in the UK has risen from one in 400 to one in 25 – a tend DS Smith has said can be widely attributed to its own work.

The scheme sees coffee cups collected in separate bins hosted by businesses, local authorities and central Government. Once collected, the cups are used to make new board-based products such as stationary, greetings cards or new foodservice packaging.

DS Smith now hopes to replicate this system across the Benelux region following a successful recycling trial at its De Hoop Paper Mill in the Netherlands.

The trial saw DS Smith, in partnership with Renewi, successfully capture and recycle more than 100,000 cups. The expansion of the scheme, DS Smith claims, could be key to closing the loop on the 4.5 billion disposable coffee cups distributed in Benelux annually – but only if the right collaborations are forged.

“We’re proud to be able to export our successful recycling formula to Europe – but we need help [because] our biggest challenge remains getting hold of the cups,” DS Smith’s group chief executive officer Miles Roberts said.

“We’re calling on governments to work closely with us to solve the problem of supply and ensure consumers put cups in separate recycling bins, knowing that they aren’t just recycled in theory, but in practise too.”

Storm in a coffee cup

In the current market, takeaway paper coffee cups can only be recycled in select infrastructure. The cups are commonly sealed with a plastic lining to make them waterproof. Although both materials are recyclable, the lining cannot be handled by most recycling facilities, while the paper is subjected to contamination issues.

Aside from DS Smith, other British firms offering coffee cup recycling at scale include James Cropper. Organisations collecting cups for such recyclers now include most major food-to-go chains, property developers Landsec and Canary Wharf Group, local authorities such as those in Leeds and Glasgow, and transport giants like Chiltern Railways and Gatwick Airport.

Reuse is also on the rise for coffee cups, with many shoppers keen to minimise their contribution to the fact that 100,000 trees are estimated to be logged to create coffee cups for UK consumers annually.

In the reuse field, UK coffee shops are increasingly turning to incentives to spur behaviour change – despite an absence of national policy mandating them to do so. Many shops offer a discount for customers reusing cups, with Pret-A-Manger offering the highest discount of 50p per cup. Others, including Starbucks, are charging consumers extra for choosing a single-use cup. Less common incentives include giving customers an extra loyalty card stamp for using reusable cups (Caffe Nero) and banning single-use disposable cups altogether (John Lewis & Partners, Boston Tea Party).

Sarah George

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