Heathrow Airport champions coffee cup recycling in 2018 sustainability update

EXCLUSIVE: Heathrow will recycle all disposable coffee cups that are sold and discarded onsite by the end of the year, the Airport's chief executive John Holland-Kaye announced during an edie webinar (23 April).

A landside view of Heathrow. More than 13.5 million coffee cups are used across all of the Airport's terminals every year

A landside view of Heathrow. More than 13.5 million coffee cups are used across all of the Airport's terminals every year

The new commitment will see Heathrow work with its retail and waste management partners to roll out new recycling systems that will be capable of recovering the 13.5 million+ cups that are used at the Airport every year.

Holland-Kaye announced the pledge as part of edie’s exclusive webinar, which gave a one-year update on Heathrow 2.0 – the Airport's strategy for sustainable growth. The webinar also discussed Heathrow's progress towards its goal of "carbon-neutral expansion", alongside other major sustainable business commitments.

Making the coffee cup recycling announcement, Holland-Kaye said: "Today, we are announcing that by the end of this year, all coffee cups used at Heathrow can be recycled.

"It has taken a huge amount of hard work and collaboration to get to this point, and I want to thank our colleagues and partners who are making this happen... We have been working with our retail partners and our waste supply chain to make sure we have a practical alternative. I hope that this will make it easier for other big sites to follow suit.

"We will not stop with coffee cups – we are looking at other types of single-use plastics, including plastic bottles, straws and stirrers." 

Coffee cup crusade

The announcement follows Heathrow's recent pledge to ban paper-based coffee cups used inside the business, with the Airport instead encouraging colleagues to bring reusable, bamboo-based cups to work.

Today, Holland-Kaye called on other big businesses make similar commitments, noting that the Heathrow’s decision was based on his own “personal crusade” against disposable coffee cups – of which less than 1% are currently recycled in the UK due to a plastic lining on the interior which cannot be handled by local councils.

Heathrow’s chief executive also revealed in the webinar that the organisation had previously tried to implement its own internal “latte levy” on disposable coffee cup use, but that the move failed to change behaviours and reduce the volume of coffee cups being used amongst staff.

Moreover, many of Heathrow's onsite coffee retailers – which includes Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Pret – had offered to provide Heathrow with compostable cup alternatives, but again the Airport did not favour this approach, due to concerns that compostable cups couldn’t be properly composted in an anaerobic digester.

Heathrow will now work with its retail partners on the collection process of disposable cups, as well as liaising with suppliers and waste contractors in the supply chain, to ensure they will be able to accommodate an influx in volume.

The coffee cup commitment comes less than a week after Costa made its own pledge to recycle the equivalent of its entire annual sales of takeaway cups, at a financial cost to the business.

Heathrow 2.0 update

edie’s webinar took place on the same day that Heathrow published a one-year progress report on its Heathrow 2.0 sustainability strategy, which lists more than 200 targets across a range of social, environmental and economic issues.

Heathrow 2.0 is ultimately underpinned by the Airport’s expansion, with the level of investment required to fulfil the strategy largely dependent on permission to build a third runway. Crucially, the growth in flights and infrastructure caused by Heathrow’s expansion will be carbon-neutral under Heathrow 2.0, and today's progress report gave an update on those plans to offset emissions.

"We have worked closely with others in our industry to push for the best standard for CORSIA [the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation]," the report states. "This will be vital if we are to achieve our ambition for growth from our new runway to be carbon-neutral."

"We’ll publish more on our plans for this later this year."

The Heathrow 2.0 progress report goes on to cite a number of key sustainability achievements for the business in 2017/18 – for example, more than 50 of Heathrow's vehicles have been converted to electric or hybrid models; the Airport now has the highest density of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in Europe; and the business recently built a new 'Centre of Excellence for Sustainability', with an innovation prize of £20,000 being made available.


On-demand webinar – Inside Heathrow 2.0: Building a strategy for business leadership

edie's live, interactive webinar brought together Heathrow’s chief executive Holland-Kaye, director of sustainability Matthew Gorman, Business in the Community chief executive Amanda Mackenzie and The Climate Group's corporate partnerships director Mike Peirce.

Chaired by edie and incorporating a live audience Q&A, the webinar is now available to view on-demand.

Watch the full one-hour webinar on-demand here.


Luke Nicholls & Matt Mace


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