The lifecycle of a coffee cup

Takeaway or disposable coffee cups must be one of the most confusing items when it comes to recycling. Can you recycle them or not? Technically yes, they are recyclable. But only 1 in 400 are recycled. This is due to the fact that each part of the coffee cup has to be separated and recycled differently, and this includes separating the cup itself, as it is made up of both paper and an inner plastic lining.

A small number of local authorities have put into place specialist bins or schemes to recycle coffee cups properly, but they very much remain the minority. Sheffield does not yet have the facilities to properly recycle coffee cups, and so these end up in incineration or sometimes landfill.

We’ve put together a visual aid to show you what happens to a coffee cup after its been used in Sheffield.

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For more on general plastics recycling in Sheffield and an explanation of the different codes – please see our plastics and the environment blog section.

More about Hubbub. Hubbub is a charity that creates environmental campaigns and these include recycling on-the-go schemes. The first of these schemes were trialled in Leeds last year and seems to have been rather successful. Looking at coffee cups specifically – on-the-go recycling bins, indoor coffee cup bins, and in-store coffee cup collections were set up in Leeds city centre to combat the problem of disposable cups.

Almost 600,000 coffee cups were recycled! These coffee cup bins collected the most amount of target material of any of the collection methods, which suggests quite a high demand for these sorts of bins in high footfall areas.

Hubbub also found that the public is generally confused about whether coffee cups can be recycled – 32% of those surveyed in January 2019 thought cups could go into the mixed recycling bin, whereas in fact they should be recycled separately.

But what about Sheffield? I spoke to the Director of Hubbub regarding bringing this scheme to Sheffield and he said “We don’t currently have any plans to bring it to Sheffield, but we will be looking to expand it next year, so if the council in Sheffield are interested then it could definitely be an option.”

This might be something we as the public can set into motion, by speaking or writing to Sheffield City Council. If they see that there is a demand for on-the-go recycling bins, especially for coffee cups, then they may be more inclined to bring this scheme to Sheffield.

Also, some of the major coffee shops (Starbucks, Costa, Café Nero, etc.) will take back their used cups to be recycled in specialist facilities. And most offer a price reduction on drinks if you provide your own reusable cups. You can have a look at what our own director says about reusable cups in our sustainability tip guide for using reusable coffee cups.

However, only around 2% of drink sales are in reusable cups, which isn’t enough. Retailers, manufacturers, and consumers need to do more to combat the tirade of coffee cups that are polluting our planet.

From Hubbub’s survey of the public and the above statistic, it seems we need more accessible and consistent information around how and where to recycle coffee cups, and the benefits around using a reusable cup instead.

We hope this blog post is a start in clearing up the misconception around coffee cups, but if you have any other questions, then please comment below, and we’ll do our best to find the answers for you.

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