Taking to the streets of London in his ‘coffee cup battle bus’ on Monday (14 March), Fearnley-Whittingstall continued his war on waste, turning his attention to the high-street giants and claiming that the recyclable cups, which these brands put into circulation, can’t be recycled by normal public waste collection services.

“The truth is, [the cups] are barely recyclable at all – in the everyday, commonly understood sense of the word,” Fearnley-Whittingstall said. “They cannot be recycled through any of the normal public waste collection services – who are consistently diverting them to be incinerated or sent to landfill.

“We want transparency, and we want action from these companies. Only by changing to a cup that is properly recyclable in the public waste disposal system, or by massively investing in new specialised facilities, can they justify the bold environmental claims they are making. This is a solvable problem, so let’s see them solve it.

“The coffee companies are taking advantage of the public’s false confidence in their responsible actions. They are actively encouraging the misunderstanding, with claims and statements on their websites. And two biggest, Costa and Starbucks, seem to be the worst culprits.”

The chef headed out in his ‘battle bus’ to raise the issue to the public, claiming that 5,000 coffee cups are discarded each minute, but less than 1% of these are actually recycled.

Flat white lies

Fearnley-Whittingstall accused Costa and Starbucks of ‘greenwashing’ statements and public messages in regards to their single-use cups, which the brands claim are 100% recyclable.

The TV chef cited the figures from recycling specialists Simply Cups – which recycles cups received from the likes of Costa and McDonalds – stating that the firm handles less than six million cups a year. This is one million less than what is discarded everyday and equates to 0.25% of the cups thrown away by the public actually being recycled.

“Costa claims to have the most environmentally friendly coffee cup in the world,” Fearnley-Whittingstall added. “They do send some cups to Simply Cups – but our calculations suggest it’s less than 1% of all Costa paper cups. I openly invite Costa to prove they are doing better than that.”

Both Costa and Starbucks have been invited to discuss the issue ahead of the next series of ‘Hugh’s War on Waste’. A statement claimed that Costa has refused, while Starbucks – a member of the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group (PCRRG) – has agreed to an interview in principle.

The coffee brands may have to brace for a barrage of criticism aimed at them once the series airs. Both the fashion industry and the food sector have been subject to the chef’s ‘war on waste’, with supermarkets in particular, bringing in new initiatives such as ‘wonky veg’ boxes to subdue the criticism.

Matt Mace

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