Businesses and government need to take responsibility for disposable cup recycling, says anti-waste boss

'Everyone needs to take responsibility; the reality is that everyone has been getting away with it for a long time,' says Simply Cups co-founder Peter Goodwin

 

 

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Wednesday 28 February 2018 12:21
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The collection and recycling service run by Simply Cups aims to turn disposable cups into a valuable commodity by collecting them separately in large quantities and taking them to specialist recycling centres
The collection and recycling service run by Simply Cups aims to turn disposable cups into a valuable commodity by collecting them separately in large quantities and taking them to specialist recycling centres

The director of the first UK coffee cup recycling scheme has called for action from businesses and Government to tackle the rising tide of coffee cup waste.

Peter Goodwin agreed that businesses “absolutely” need to make more responsibility, but that the Government also needs to step up.

“Everyone needs to take responsibility; the reality is that everyone has been getting away with it for a long time. Everyone in the industry knew that cups weren’t being recycled,” said the co-director of Simply Cups.

“The Government is equally to blame as the business community.”

A recent report by the Environmental Audit Committee revealed seven million coffee cups that are thrown away across the country every day.

The vast majority of these polyethylene-lined beverage containers are never recycled and taxpayers bear 90 per cent of the costs incurred disposing of these cups.

One of the committee’s recommendations to Government was that businesses should take financial responsibility for coffee cup recycling.

Simply Cups provides the only specialist collection and recycling service for disposable coffee cups in the country.

The Independent’s Cut the Cup Waste campaign is also calling for action to address the problem.

Do coffee shops offer ceramic cups by default rather than plastic cups? Our 'Cut the cup waste' campaign investigates

One measure supported by the campaign is the committee’s proposal to introduce a 25p charge on all drinks sold in disposable cups – a so-called “latte levy”. An exclusive poll for The Independent has found that the majority of the British public would back such a levy.

Supporters of such a charge say that the extra cash could be used to improve the infrastructure to deal with disposable cups.

Simply Cups works with ACE UK, one of the only specialist plants in the country capable of recycling coffee cups.

Though much has been made of the lack of facilities capable of recycling plastic-lined coffee cups in Britain, Mr Goodwin said this is not his main concern.

“There is plenty of infrastructure that could take a hell of a lot more cups than are currently being recovered,” he said. “If you look at ACE UK their facility is designed around beverage cartons, and the same technology takes polyethylene out of a beverage carton that takes it out of a cup.”

Instead, Simply Cups’ primarily focus has been creating a commercially viable system to get the cups out of the marketplace and into the recycling facilities in large enough quantities.

“This problem is pretty straightforward, it’s about getting economies of scale and getting material out of the marketplace – if you prove there is value in the material and it’s going to a facility that is paying money for it, then the reality is there is a return on the investment to build more facilities,” he said.

“Once you’ve got the material, innovation follows.”

When their operations began in 2014, virtually all cups were either incinerated or sent to landfill as they were essentially worthless.

According to Mr Goodwin, the recent Chinese refusal to continue importing large quantities of “foreign garbage” from Europe has been a wake-up call that has forced the industry to acknowledge its waste problem.

He hopes this will lead to increased pressure to adopt more “circular” solutions when disposing of their coffee cups.

Latte levy: The plastic problem inside your coffee cup

However, he said coffee chains are still not taking the issue as seriously as they should be, and there is still too much focus on consumers taking action to deal with the problem.

Many of the big brands have launched schemes in recent months to tackle cup waste, with Starbucks launching a 5p charge for single-use cups in 35 central London locations earlier this week.

Others have encouraged the use of reusable cups in-store by offering discounts to customers who bring their own.

“My frustration is that at the moment is that there are certain brands spending more money trying to get good PR stories than actually trying to solve the problem,” said Mr Goodwin.

“They need to understand that if they want to operate they have to provide these solutions, and if they don’t do it their brand is going to suffer – and if they don’t do it collectively they are going to pay a lot more in government intervention.”

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