Battling the coffee cup mountain

Earlier this year it was revealed that there are an estimated 5,000 takeaway coffee cups  thrown away every minute in the UK, with less than 1% being recycled, even if placed in recycling bins. The ‘War on Waste’ campaign led by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall highlighted that many consumers assume that putting their cups in a recycling bin was enough, but in fact there were few facilities in the country that could process them, and so they would still end up in landfill.

One of the stores that was featured in the campaign was Costa Coffee, the largest coffee shop chain in the UK. The company has now announced a new recycling scheme in its stores where it will accept not only its own takeaway cups but those from other coffee shops too.  After trials carried out in selected stores to see how many cups they would have the potential to recycle, this new recycling programme means there is the potential to recycle thousands of cups each day, with claims that this could be as many as 30 million. Costa has partnered with Veolia, the environmental solutions company, to ensure the cups are taken to a suitable processing plant for recycling.

They are not the only business attempting to address sustainability issues around coffee cups. Starbucks has trialled both discounts for consumers who bring their own cup, and now a recyclable cup from Frugalpac, and there have been other cup recycling initiatives trialled in cities, the focus remains on trying to reduce the amount of coffee cups that end up in landfill.

The efforts from these coffee shop chains is a positive one, moving towards the ability to recycle a greater proportion of coffee cups, although there are still efforts consumers could make too. The trial by Costa Coffee found that many takeaway cups were left in store, if this was the case then perhaps some consumers could have avoided having a takeaway cup in the first place, and for those that are coffee shop regulars that are a range of reusable coffee cups available. While some of the large chains have trialled discounts for using reusable cups, these don’t seem to have lasted, and for many consumers carrying a reusable cup takes away the convenience of visiting a coffee shop. So, should questions are raised about what can be done to encourage consumers to be more sustainable alongside the measures taken by the coffee shops themselves. Further afield in Germany, the city of Freiburg has a new scheme, where consumers can get the ‘Freiburg Cup’  for a deposit of a euro, and then reused in a number of outlets across the city.

It is also important to highlight that while the volume of takeaway coffee cups is an important sustainability issue, there are other areas of the café industry where sustainability issues should be discussed. This might be thinking about the amount of energy used in stores, to where the ingredients used in the coffee shops come from. This too has been acknowledged by some businesses with efforts to make sustainable buildings, reduce energy consumption or ensure coffee grounds recycled. While it might be the large coffee shop chains that gain media attention, there many independent coffee shops that are making more extensive moves in their business to be sustainable. Just recently 3FE, a coffee shop in Dublin, blogged about their sustainability efforts, from recycling waste, using compost bins, using waste milk, to locally sourcing food and using the chaff from the coffee roasting process that is used by another company to smoke bacon. While the number of takeaway coffee cups is alarming, and certainly needs to be addressed through efforts from business and consumers, the issue of coffee shop sustainability is much broader. It will be important in the future that coffee shops consider their environmental footprint to think about the different elements of the business that could be made more sustainable, beyond what the drinks are served in, as many have already began to do.


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2 Responses to Battling the coffee cup mountain

  1. Nice round-up of what’s going on in recycling/sustainability. There’s so much waste that could be cut down with a little thought and effort from both consumers and coffee shop owners.



  2. keithpp says:

    Often there are very simple things we can do … like relaxing in a coffee shop with a cup of coffee, not walking down the street with a takeaway cup in our hands.

    Simple things, when we all act, can change the world.

    Why do we have to walk down the street with a cup of coffee in our hand?

    I do not.

    I would far rather sit and relax with a coffee in the pleasant ambience of a coffee shop.

    Nor do I wish to drink out of a disposable cup. Any more than I would wish to drink a good red wine out of a disposable cup.

    For a cappuccino, a ceramic cup, for a single origin V60, it has to be a nice glass.

    That is not to say never. I will occasionally drink from a kiosk or a stall, but only because they are serving excellent coffee, not because I wish to run down the street with a coffee in my hand.

    A compostable paper cup is fine if I am on my way home and can drop it on the compost heap. What do I doe with it otherwise?

    A KeepCup is fine if popping out of the office to take back a coffee. Beyond that its use is limited due to have to cart it around.

    Disposable coffee cups


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