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Is Your Coffee-To-Go Poisoning Our Planet?


You are not alone.  You are one of the billions of coffee drinkers whose coffee cup ends up in the landfill instead of being recycled!  It is estimated that 2.5 billion paper and plastic cups are used in the UK each year and less than one percent get recycled.

The 5p charge on plastic bags from October 2015 has seen a significant reduction in the amount of plastic bags landing in the landfill. Is a tax on coffee cups the way to go? Imposing a tax on disposable coffee cups will not increase recycling rates nor stop millions of single-use cups from being littered or discarded.

The Problem

Firstly, most coffee cups are virtually impossible to recycle despite the three arrows recycling symbol on them. Coffee chains have been accused of making misleading claims about the sustainability of their disposable cups.

Secondly, if the cup is indeed truly recyclable, then the problem with the recycling is both at the beginning as well as at its end. Both businesses and consumers have not paid serious notice to ensure that the recyclable coffee cup gets recycled! Whether the coffee cup you use to enjoy your morning fix on the way to work gets recycled will depend on where it lands after you have finished with it. If you toss it into a dustbin, it will most certainly land in the landfill instead of the recycling plant.

And if it does land in a recycling bin, then it has to find its way to the only two specialist facilities in the UK that have the capability to strip the plastic lining off the cups and recycle the paper. The lack of effective recycling would surprise many businesses and eco-conscious consumers as most do not really question what really happens to the waste.

Going from the recent debate on recycling coffee cups, there is no guarantee that even if the disposable cup bears the recycling symbol, it is actually going to be recycled!

So for those of us who love both our takeaway coffee and planet, what’s the solution?


Possible Solutions

  1. Reusable Cups

Encourage coffee lovers to bring their own reusable cups!  What would then happen to the culture of coffee on the go and where do you wash your cup?

  1. A transparent and sustainable solution for recyclable single use cups.
  • Producers and brands should ensure that the waste industry has the ability to extract the economic value it needs to ensure a commercially viable solution. Just by using the recycling symbol does not absolves them from their responsibility. Everyone in the supply chain including the waste industry needs to collaborate and come up with workable solutions to tackle material segregation, collection and reprocessing.  We do have the technology to strip the plastic lining off the cups but we need more such facilities given the humongous amount of single use cups used by coffee lovers.
  • Both businesses and consumers need to see the value in turning waste into a resource. The cups need to have a clear message that it should be disposed off into a recycling bin – to remind the user not to toss it into a dustbin. For example - “Help me find my way to a recycling bin”.  A system for collecting the cups and recycling them needs to be established. 
  1. Biodegradable disposable cups

Biodegradable disposable cups can be disposed off as eco-friendly waste. Hence eliminating the hassle of ensuring the cups land in a recycling bin and the right facility!

         Element disposable cups are 100% biodegradable in the landfill within 120 days under the right environment. The end product is a non-toxic waste for fertilizers, emission of non-toxic gases which are not harmful to animals or humans and a reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide by 68% when incinerated.  element disposable cups can even be reused up to three times without compromising the quality.

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