An agreement to give more people access to paper cup recycling has been signed by the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE UK) alongside 14 cross-industry collaborators, including Caffe Nero, Greggs and Nestlé.

More than 400 recycling points will be rolled out across the UK as the industry attempts to emulate the recycling success of drink cartons, which are now collected by 92% of UK local authorities through kerbside collections and recycling bank systems.

“The paper cup industry is facing very similar recycling challenges to the ones the beverage carton industry faced when we started our programme ten years ago,” ACE UK chief executive Richard Hands said.

“Whilst our primary focus will remain on increasing beverage carton recycling, we believe our expertise, experience and existing relationships can help the paper cup industry create a step change in cup recycling. Whilst it is early days, we have a clear measured plan agreed and expect to see significant progress in cup recycling over the next two years and beyond.”

Creating a market

More than 5,000 of coffee cups are discarded in the UK each minute, but less than 1% of these are actually recycled. Paper coffee cups are difficult to recycle because they are sealed with a polyethylene (plastic) lining on the interior, which can’t be recycled along with ordinary paper waste by local councils.

From the start of next year, all ACE UK recycling banks will accept paper cups for recycling. This will deliver an extra 382 recycling points in 97 local authorities across the UK, with a further 33 recycling points scheduled during the next phase. Cups from these points will be processed at ACE UK’s recycling facility in Halifax. The group has also vowed to work to include cups in local authority kerbside collections.

Commenting on the agreement, Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group (PCRRG) chair Neill Whittall said: “By generating greater volumes of cups for recycling this will create a market for the material, making cups more attractive to waste management companies and creating the potential for more schemes to be introduced to collect cups from a much wider range of locations such as offices and high street locations.”

The full list of companies signed up to the deal are as follows: Benders Paper Cups, Bunzl Catering Supplies, Caffe Nero, Costa Coffee, Dart Products Europe, Greggs, Huhtamaki, International Paper, McDonald’s UK, Nestlé, Pret A Manger, Seda Group, Starbucks, and Stora Enso.

Business efforts

The business community has supported efforts to reduce waste from coffee cups through a range of in-store cup and pilot recycling projects. Selfridges, for instance, has teamed up with waste management firm Veolia and British papermaker James Cropper to reprocess disposable coffee cup waste into yellow shopping bags.

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 Rival brand Starbucks has also introduced its own in-store recycling bins for paper cups. Starbucks already offers various recycling initiatives in regards to paper cups, like trialling a 50p discount for customers that bring their own cups. 

George Ogleby

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