New figures from the Square Mile Challenge show that 343,000 cups were collected in the first three weeks of April, thanks to more than 250 new recycling points on the streets, and in offices and coffee shops. With around 32,000 cups being collected a day, the scheme is on course to hit its 500,000 target.

More than 100 high street coffee retailers, such as Caffé Nero, Costa and Starbucks, have offered recycling facilities and are accepting 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, are being used to collect paper coffee cups, helping divert them in into a new waste stream.

The project is led by environmental charity Hubbub, in collaboration with recycling company Simply Cups, with involvement from Network Rail and the City of London Corporation.

Hubbub Co-founder Gavin Ellis said: “Our feeling has always been that we need to have a little faith in people to do the right thing when it comes to recycling.  We’re delighted to see that this is proving to be the case and that people are happy to recycle their cups if the facilities are available to do so.  The workplace collections are proving particularly successful and to date around 80% of the cups collected have come from the 36 City businesses who signed up to the Square Mile Challenge. 

“These are facilities which will stay in place beyond April, making this a long-term solution for the Square Mile. Meanwhile, we’ve been contacted by more employers in the Square Mile and beyond and we’re working on plans for a wider roll out of the scheme.”

Coffee cup challenge

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 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 are in place on the City’s streets and cups are being collected at both Liverpool Street and Cannon Street stations during rush hour every week day throughout the month.

It is hoped that five million cups will be collected and recycled by the end of the year. In a recent blog written exclusively for edie, circular economy experts Libby Sandbrook (BITC) and Debbie Hitchen (Anthesis) explained that they expect the challenge exceed this figure 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.

The scheme builds on a much smaller pilot in Manchester, where 20,000 cups had been recycled from one street over three months.

Retailers 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

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