Takeaway Coffee Cups

Is it time to kick the habit?

By Caroline Wilson on November 7, 2017

Like many coffee enthusiasts, every Friday morning my boyfriend and I treat ourselves to a takeaway coffee en route to the office. Being the conscientious pair we are, once we’ve had our delicious caffeine hit, we pop our takeaway coffee cups into the recycling bin, because they’re made of paper and can be recycled… right? Well not really, but therein lies the problem.

It’s a common misconception that all takeaway coffee cups can be recycled. To stop the cups from leaking most ‘paper’ takeaway cups are either lined or fused with a polyethylene liner which is incredibly difficult to separate from the paper when it comes to being recycled.

Takeaway coffee cups

Here’s how it usually goes:

It’s estimated that 7 million throwaway coffee cups are used in the UK every day*1 and that less than 1% of these are recycled*3. Recycling facilities do not have the technology to efficiently segregate used paper cups for recycling, resulting in the majority of these cups ending up in landfill sites*2.

Once at landfill sites, the plastic makes its way into marine ecosystems where it breaks down into smaller pieces and is ingested by birds, fish, turtles and other creatures, sometimes with fatal results.

Marine wildlife is affected by plastic pollution

Thanks to recent advancements, it is now possible for some coffee cups to be recycled at specialist pulping plants. It’s a huge step forward but requires the cups to be separated from other waste at the point of collection, then taken to specialist plants in the UK and abroad. If we continue to put our cups into mixed waste recycling bins, that 1% of cups that are recycled isn’t going to increase anytime soon.

So, we know that ‘paper’ takeaway coffee cups are a challenge to recycle, but what should we do about it?

I’m the first to say that I won’t be giving up my Friday morning coffee habit anytime soon. The good news is, you don’t have to either!

There are a growing number of manufacturers in the UK that produce compostable cups which are usually made with a plant-based lining*4. Hurrah! Great stuff, except that not all coffee shops use them (yet!). Even if your favourite coffee shop does (kudos to them), what happens when you’ve strayed out to try something new but the place around the corner doesn’t… we’re back to square one.

For me, the easiest option was to switch to a reusable coffee cup. By carrying my sturdy KeepCup with me and using this when in need of a pick me up, I’m not adding to the waste pile and don’t have to worry when I want to try somewhere new. Extra bonus, it’s not uncommon to find that cafes will give you a discount if you bring your own cup!

Reusable KeepCup - takeaway coffee cup

There’s a huge range of reusable coffee cups out there so you can find the best one for you. But ultimately, the best cup is the one you use, so pick one and try it.

Et voila, a simple way to solve a big problem. Mine’s a long black, please ;)

*1 www.squaremilechallenge.co.uk

*2 www.veolia.co.uk

*3 www.theguardian.com

*4 www.vegware.com

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