Starbucks responds to War on Waste with ‘bring your own cup’ discount

Following a wave of intense criticism about its lack of action on the circular economy, coffee shop chain Starbucks will trial a 50p discount on its drinks if consumers bring their own cup, in an attempt to curb the rising issue of coffee cup recycling.

The two-month trial, beginning in April, will see Starbucks customers who bring their own cups into the store offered a 50p discount on all drinks – other than the café’s £1 filter coffee – in an attempt to slash the amount of waste produced by the store.

Starbucks has been on the receiving end of criticism after it was revealed that around 5,000 coffee cups were discarded every minute in the UK, meaning that around 2.5 billion are tossed aside each year – with less than 1% being recycled.

These statistics were thrown under the spotlight last week after TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – who has lobbied previous ‘War on Waste’ campaigns against the food and fashion industries – headed to the streets of London in a coffee battle bus, calling on both Starbucks and Costa to solve the issue.

Starbucks UK’s vice president Rhys Iley was quoted in the Telegraph as stating: “Starbucks is committed to increasing recycling rates and reusable cups are a key part of our overall waste reduction strategy.

“In response to Hugh’s campaign, from April 1 for two months we’ll be trialling an increase in the discount of our reusable cup incentive to 50p for every drink purchased.”

Bio-degradable solution

While Starbucks has shown signs of progress in tackling the coffee cup issue, questions remain over the recyclability of paper cups – which are sealed with a polyethylene (plastic) lining on the interior.

British paper cup recycler Simply Cups, which works with brands such as Costa and McDonald’s, has already called for a collaborative push in the supply chains to help it exceed its goal of recycling more than six million paper cups this year – less than what is produced daily.

In response to the waste issues and Simply Cups’ calls for supply chain action, both the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA) and British manufacturer Biome Bioplastics have this week called on coffee brands to focus on bio-degradable material to be the primary source of their coffee cups.

The BBIA is calling for compostable cups to be introduced into coffee supply chains, claiming that current cup manufacturers are paying tax to recycle materials that can’t be recovered efficiently. BBIA’s group recycling consultant Eilidh Brunton said: “It’s not just cups – recycling is a major challenge for all conventional foodservice disposables. Compostable packaging is the only solution to zero waste in foodservice.

“This is an existing and real solution, already in use in offices, universities and hospitals across the UK. One large Canary Wharf office composts 2.3 tonnes of used compostable packaging each month; Cambridge University diverts 1.5 tonnes a month to a local composter.”

As well as composting cups, Biome Bioplastics has offered a biodegradable material that can be recycled in current paper collection streams and can also be used to create disposable coffee pods – the non-recyclable plastic versions are banned in Hamburg – that can also be recycled or disposed of in a sustainable manner.

Biome Bioplastics chief executive Paul Mines said: “There are high-tech materials being produced here in Britain that are available for market. We are currently producing bio-based materials for a number of large brands in the convenience coffee industry – such as cups, lids and pods – which can either be recycled or thrown away to compost with coffee grounds.

“The recent revelation of exactly how much landfill waste is being created show the urgent need for big brands to accelerate work in new, sustainable materials such as bioplastics, in order to respond to consumer concerns.”

Matt Mace

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