MPs probe circular economy progress on plastic bottles and coffee cups

The war on packaging waste has entered Westminster this week as MPs have launched a fresh inquiry into the environmental impact of plastic bottle and coffee cup waste.

The Committee is calling in businesses to provide evidence on how the public and private sector can work to introduce policies that reduce waste and increase awareness among the public

The Committee is calling in businesses to provide evidence on how the public and private sector can work to introduce policies that reduce waste and increase awareness among the public

The inquiry, which is being overseen by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), will investigate the steps being taken by businesses and policymakers to reduce disposable drinks packaging waste and roll out potential solutions.

EAC Chair Mary Creagh MP said: “Our throwaway society has given us a tide of litter on our beaches, dead seabirds and fish, and plastic in our food. We all enjoy a take away coffee or tea, but the cups they are served in are particularly difficult to recycle because they combine plastic coating and cardboard.

“Our inquiry will be taking a serious look at solutions like the use of different materials, better recycling and bottle deposit return schemes."

In the spotlight

Together, plastic bottles and coffee cups represent a significant circular economy conundrum for the UK: the equivilant of one in 400 of the seven million plastic bottles sold in Britain each day are recycled, with more than 6.98 million going to landfill or ending up in the environment. Meanwhile, 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 issues have been thrust under the spotlight by politicians and green groups in recent months: the Liberal Democrats have been leading calls for a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups to cut usage, while environmental campaigners and industry experts last month discussed the viability of a plastic bottle deposit scheme.

In this new enquiry, the EAC is calling in businesses to provide evidence on how the public and private sector can work together to introduce better policies that reduce waste and increase awareness of recycling among the public. The EAC will also be drawing on examples of best practice from other countries to find solutions to the issue.

Key questions that the EAC is seeking to answer include: - 

- What are the challenges of recycling these products? What obstacles have prevented greater progress in increasing recycling rates?

Are consumers aware of the complexities of recycling these products? How could we increase awareness amongst the public and what impact would this have?

- How effective, to date, have Government and local government led initiatives (such as #1MoreShot) been at reducing waste and increasing the recycling of coffee cups and plastic bottles?

- What is the likely impact of leaving the EU on UK efforts to reduce coffee cup and plastic bottle waste?

Circular solutions

Retailers have ramped up efforts to increase recycling rates and explore innovative ways to reduce waste from disposable drinks packaging, particularly in the aftermath of the influential Hugh’s War on Waste TV programme last year, which focused on coffee cups.

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. Last month, 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.

On plastic bottles, multi-national food company Danone last week teamed up with the bottled water division of the Nestlé Group and a Californian start-up company to launch a new alliance aimed at commercialising 100% bio-based plastic bottles. Meanwhile, Ikea recently launched a new range of kitchen fronts made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles and reclaimed wood.

The EAC requires all submissions to its enquiry to be sent in by 5pm on Wednesday 5 April. Full information can be found here.


edie’s Resource Management Month

March is edie’s Resource Management Month, with a series of exclusive interviews, features and podcasts running throughout the month to drill down on the most effective ways of driving a resource revolution.

From recycling and recovery to closed-loop solutions, our Resource Management Month will explore the various ways businesses can help to deliver an economy that has moved away from ‘take, make, waste’ to a circular economy-based model based on resource efficiency, re-use and redistribution.

Read all of our resource management content here.

George Ogleby & Luke Nicholls


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