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   Mar 16

Hypocrisy of coffee giants: High St chains claim to be ‘green’ while handing out 2.5bn cups a year that are NOT recycled

Campaigners claim that 399 out of every 400 takeaway cups are dumped

Around 5,000 used a minute, plastic lining makes them difficult to recycle

Companies claim they are recycled alongside paper but critics doubt this

It is thought that councils and taxpayers are footing bill for landfill instead

Coffee shop chains were accused of hypocrisy yesterday for fuelling a tidal wave of litter and waste.

The firms use green symbols to suggest their takeaway cups are recycled when almost all of them go to landfill instead.

Campaigners say that 399 out of every 400 are dumped – 2.5billion a year.

Most are made from trees that take 80 years to grow, yet the cups are used for only a few minutes before being thrown away.

Their plastic lining makes them difficult to recycle and only two facilities in the country have the necessary machinery.

An estimated 5,000 takeaway coffee cups are thrown away every minute but campaigners claim 399 out of every 400 – which comes to 2.5billion a year – are dumped (file photo)

Coffee giants in the dock over two billion discarded cups: Chains accused of contributing to the UK’s landfill problem after just 1% are recycled each year

‘It shouldn’t be rocket science to ensure coffee cups are recycled in the UK,’ said Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth.

‘It’s a disgrace and hypocritical of companies to imply their cups can be and are recycled when that isn’t the case. The public should be able to expect better, especially given the damage landfill does to our environment.’

Jenny Jones, a Green Party peer, said the misleading packaging was ‘potentially illegal’.

She added: ‘I hope this issue will be picked up by the public so we can force these companies to deliver on their promises.’

The coffee industry is hugely lucrative – Caffè Nero and Starbucks made combined profits of almost £60million last year. Sales at Costa, the biggest chain, rose 16 per cent, helping parent company Whitbread make a profit of £291million.

Costa insists its cups can be recycled alongside normal paper, but there are serious doubts that this is happening. Instead councils and taxpayers foot the bill for landfill.

The scandal has been highlighted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The chef said a plant in Cumbria has the specialist equipment but there is no system in place for cups to be sent there.

‘It’s time for our biggest coffee shops to come clean,’ he added. ‘The takeaway cups they sell us are virtually impossible to recycle – they don’t fit our local recycling systems, so the vast majority end up being incinerated or sent to landfill.’

Costa (file photo) insists its cups can be recycled alongside normal paper, but there are serious doubts that this is happening


A British design expert has developed a coffee cup – the Frugalpac – that can be recycled rather than dumped.

Martin Myerscough developed the design two years ago and is now about to begin production at a factory in Ireland.

‘I always thought it was such a waste that disposable coffee cups couldn’t be easily recycled,’ he said. ‘In these times of limited resources and diminishing landfill space, a single use cup that can’t be recycled is an indulgence we just cannot afford. We hope that Frugalpac will become standard in the booming coffee industry so that we can put an end to this shocking environmental shame.’

He said the problem with existing mass produced coffee cups, which are made out of virgin cardboard, is that they have a very thin plastic film that is bonded very tightly to it. ‘
A normal recycling plant cannot separate out the plastic, which means it contaminates the process,’ he said

His system involves making a cup from recycled food grade card and then adding a plastic liner, which is stuck inside.

When this goes through a normal paper recycling plant with newspapers and other waste, the plastic liner is removed by the filters. Independent tests have shown that his cups can be processed as part of normal waste paper, which means they can be recycled and re-used many times over.

While it sounds simple, this mini-revolution in paper cup manufacturing could save millions of pounds as well as paper. Mr Myerscough said: ‘We estimate 25,000 tonnes of paper in the UK every year would be saved and recycled.’

Significantly, the cups produced using his system cost exactly the same as those currently available in the high street when manufactured in large numbers.

Willie MacKenzie of Greenpeace said: ‘With an estimated 5,000 takeaway coffee cups being thrown away every minute, it’s time this shocking waste of resources was put on to the agenda. There’s nothing sustainable about burying this stuff in landfill.

‘For too long, out of sight, out of mind has been the mantra of many different industries. It’s time for businesses to take responsibility for what they produce.’

The Clean Up Britain group, whose supporters include Jeremy Paxman, Kenny Logan, Gabby Logan, Gary Lineker, AP McCoy, Andrew Flintoff, Claire Balding, Jonny Wilkinson and Julia Bradbury, said a national effort to tackle litter was needed.

The group’s founder John Read said: ‘We don’t want to see any of these cups ending up as litter, and therefore – even if they can’t be easily recycled – these companies need to actively engage in national anti-litter campaigns.’ Martin Myerscough, who has designed a disposable coffee cup that can be recycled, said the major chains had been slow to recognise and deal with the problem.

‘People will be shocked to find out that the paper cups they use rarely get recycled and they ought to be – it is a scandal,’ he added.

‘As things stand just 0.25 per cent of the more than 2.5billion cups issued each year are being recycled. That is just wrong. We need to put an end to this environmental shame.’ Samantha Harding of the Campaign to Protect Rural England said: ‘This is another example of where the poor design of packaging means more landfill and litter.’

In theory, the cups used by the major chain can be recycled, which allows them to make their claims.


In Seattle – the US home of Starbucks which launched the takeaway coffee revolution – all cups have to be either compostable or recyclable.

Six years ago, the city council ordered all restaurants, cafes and coffee shops that serve food to recycle where possible as part of an ‘aggressive’ waste reduction scheme.

This involved composting and recycling their own cups, and making bins available for customers to do the same.
But the legislation – the first of its kind in the US – went even further and required that all disposable cups had to be replaced with versions that are either compostable or recyclable.

As of 2012 this meant that Seattle was recycling about 60 per cent of its waste, which puts it among the best cities in the US.

However, Starbucks in the US is behind its own projections when it comes to recycling.

The coffee company announced eight years ago that by 2015 it would offer recycling at all company-operated branches.
But by 2013, five years into the scheme, it had only managed to implement customer recycling at 39 per cent of its stores.

Its latest report states the figure is now at 47 per cent of stores in North America.

Starbucks has also trialled recycling of coffee cups in other areas of the US.

The company worked with two mills in small-scale tests. In early 2011, it started sending cups from its Chicago stores to be turned into Starbucks napkins.

Meanwhile, Starbucks also started recycling cups from seven stores in New York City in 2010.

Costa, which has more than 2,000 outlets, uses a recycling symbol of three arrows in a continuous loop.
Starbucks, which has about 760 shops, says on its website: ‘We have set a goal to make 100 per cent of our cups reusable or recyclable by 2015.’

Cardboard sleeves issued with Caffè Nero and Pret cups carry a recycling symbol.

Pret’s sleeves say ‘100 per cent recyclable’ and Caffè Nero’s say ‘100 per cent recycled’. Customers might assume from this the whole cup is recycled rather than just the sleeve.

Pret said its cups are theoretically recyclable, but because very few paper mills will accept them it removed a recyclable symbol over a year ago ‘to avoid misleading customers’.

A spokesman added: ‘We understand that most of our coffee cups are disposed of outside of our shops and we are working in collaboration with other companies in the industry to find ways to improve the recovery and recycling rates of take away cups.’

Caffè Nero, which uses 54million cups a year, confirmed its cups are also made with a polyethylene lining that has to separated from the cup. It said its cups were ‘fully recyclable’ where ‘facilities exist’.

Only Costa said its cups did not need to have the polythene coating separated from the paper to be recycled.

A spokesman said: ‘The coating used within our takeaway cups is accepted in mixed paper recycling.’

The plastic lining makes them difficult to recycle and only two facilities in the country have the necessary machinery

More than three quarters of McDonald’s cups are not recycled. But 350 restaurants are trialling a scheme to send cups to a specialist recycling plant.

Starbucks said the recycling of its cups depended on ‘local government policies and access to recycling markets which is limited in the UK’.

A spokesman said: ‘We continuously work with cup vendors and other packaging innovators to identify new coating technologies to improve cup recyclability.’

Caffè Nero confirmed that none of the used takeaway cups it collects are sent to the Cumbria plant.
But it said this facility is the ‘proposed destination’ for an initiative it is launching to increase the ‘capture and collection’ of cups.

Britain’s rubbish at recycling
By Geoffrey Lean

So, you’ve drunk your expensive cup of coffee, bought from a trendy chain, and all you have left is the paper cup. What do you do with it? Toss it out for recycling of course, and go on your way feeling virtuous as well as refreshed.

Or maybe not. For very few of the apparently ‘recyclable’ cups are in fact recycled. Worse, they are made in such a way as to make recycling difficult – with a plastic polyethylene coating bonded to the paper.

The problem symbolises the confusion that increasingly surrounds recycling in England, with the public left at a loss about what best to do. As a result, recycling rates, which soared for a decade, have now stagnated.
The storm in the coffee cup was unveiled by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the celebrity chef, who revealed that only one firm in the country could separate the coating from the paper so that both can be recycled.

The coffee cup scandal was highlighted by chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who said a plant in Cumbria has the specialist equipment to recycle them but there is no system in place for cups to be sent there

As a result, only about six million of the 2.5billion coffee cups thrown away annually are expected to go through the eco-friendly process.
In practice, this can only be done in bulk, so it is only possible to recycle cups from stores: fishing them out of other rubbish would be too time-consuming and expensive.

So just a few cups could cause whole bags of mixed waste to be considered ‘contaminated’ and sent to be incinerated or to landfill instead.

It amounts to quite a betrayal of trust. For people believe in recycling; 96 per cent of us want to do it. But we are being comprehensively let down by ministers, councils and green pressure groups alike.

English households produce more than 22.3million tons of waste a year, of which more than ten million tons are recycled. About four million tons of this is garden waste, mainly composted, and about 300,000 tons is waste food.

Of the remaining 5.8million tons – the bulk of our bins – about two-fifths is paper, another fifth is glass and the rest is material such as plastic, metals, and textiles.
But councils vary over what they collect and what they do with it – so much so that the Government admits that there are 300 different systems across England.

They fall into two main categories; the minority of councils that demand householders separate waste into different bins, and those that let them put it all into one bin and get it sorted later.

The pre-sorted material goes directly for recycling. All the newsprint made in Britain, for example, is now made from recycled paper, and 80 per cent of glass put out for recycling is turned into new bottles and jars.

‘I said: Do you remember when it was plastic bags?’

But about 73 per cent of the recycling collected directly from households must be sorted at one of the country’s more than 120 so-called ‘materials recovery centres’, where it is put onto long, highly automated conveyor belts. First, materials that should not be there – ranging from carpets to concrete blocks, and would include coffee cups – are removed by hand and sent to landfill sites.

What is left is goes through a series of drums and screeners, which sort it for size and type.

Paper and glass fly off on different conveyors, magnets separate steel and aluminium, and infra-red light sensors sort out the few types of plastic that can be recycled from the more than 20 that crop up in the bins. There are often manual checks so that stuff that has mistakenly got through can be removed, and then crushed and baled for reuse. What remains goes to landfill or is incinerated.
WRAP, the country’s official ‘sustainable waste’ body, refuses to say whether it thinks forcing people to sort their own recycling is best, leaving the decisions to councils.

Certainly, pre-sorting is more environmentally friendly and produces purer recycled materials, which fetch a higher price from manufacturers. But people find using lots of separate bins a nuisance and so less is recycled.

Some councils use both techniques – providing separate bins for one type of recycling and letting all the rest to be lumped together.

However, all the systems are prone to contamination – the wrong materials being put into the bins.

These range from toxic materials to coffee cups – which, at times can cause whole loads of recycling to be rejected. But since different councils recycle different things, it can be hard for householders to know what can they can put into the bins, and what they cannot. And that is only part of the problem.

Much of the waste is ‘exported’ to Third World countries – using a loophole in European law – supposedly for recycling, but often to be put in landfill.

The coalition government cut funding for WRAP from £53.5million to £17.9million a year. Meanwhile, local councils were criticised because of the over-zealous enforcement of recycling rules, and many environmental pressure groups have turned their attentions to other causes.

As a result, English recycling rates, which soared from 12.5 per cent of household waste in 2001 to 43.2 per cent in 2011, have plateaued since.

It’s an awful shame. If recycling were done properly, it has been calculated, some 50,000 new jobs could be created (it employs ten times as many more people per ton as landfill), and GDP would grow by some £3billion a year.
And, as well as doing away with the need for so many unsightly landfill sites, it would cut carbon pollution by saving energy – what we do already is the equivalent of taking five million cars off the road.

Alas, to the question: ‘What do you think of the country’s recycling policy so far?’, there’s only one honest answer. Rubbish!

Source: Daily Mail

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