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Selfridges to upcycle in-store coffee cups into shopping bags

Department store Selfridges has announced that it will be upcycling used coffee cups from its food hall and headquarters into its iconic yellow shopping bags.

The initiative comes in light of increased awareness of the difficulty in recycling single-use coffee cups over the past year - 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are thrown away every year but only six million of these are recycled.

This is because the takeaway paper cups used by most coffee shops are coated in waterproofing plastic, which is moulded to the paper before assembly, meaning it can’t be separated in traditional paper recycling streams.

Selfridges to upcycle in-store coffee cups into shopping bags

Selfridges’ upcycled versions of its iconic yellow bags begin their life when used disposable cups from the department store’s food hall and offices are ‘tipped, flipped and stacked’ – a process to ensure remaining liquid is drained and the lid, sleeve and cup are separated. They are then further processed, checked for quality and baled before being taken away by waste management company Veolia and delivered to paper manufacturer James Cropper for reprocessing at its Cumbria CupCycling plant, where the outer layer of plastic is removed, allowing the remaining paper to be recycled.

The paper is then converted into the retailer’s distinctive yellow shopping bags, with the final product containing 20 per cent cup fibre. This means that one large bag will contain the equivalent of one eight-ounce cup. The remaining fibre of the bag will continue to be PEFC certified (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification). Once the upcycled bags have been used, they will then be recycled in the standard paper waste stream.

Commenting on the launch of the new bags, Selfridges’ retail projects director Chris Brant said: “As part of our ‘Buying Better, Inspiring Change’ approach, we are constantly looking for new ways to make our business more efficient. One way we’re doing this is by reducing the amount of single use plastics we use.

“In 2015, as part of our Project Ocean campaign with the Zoological Society of London, we removed plastic carrier bags and microbeads from our beauty hall and single-use plastic cups and bottles from our stores and back of house. As we are already at zero waste to landfill, we are looking at further innovative ways to capture and treat recyclable materials.

“We’re proud to be the first retailer to upcycle our cups in this way. Our customers are becoming ever more aware of global waste issues and I think they will appreciate the story behind the bag.”

Solution sought for single-use cups

The issue of disposable coffee cups has attracted a lot of public attention in recent years, with campaigners, politicians and businesses coming up with various different initiatives to solve the problem.

Some retailers have trialled incentives for consumers bringing reusable cups for their takeaway coffee, others have backed schemes to improve the separate collection of cups, with environmental charity Hubbub coordinating the Square Mile Challenge to focus on the largest commercial district of London.

However, high-profile environmental campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - who helped to bring the issue into the mainstream with his BBC programme Hugh’s War on Waste - has said that these actions are not enough. He claims that until a cup is designed that can be recycled with other paper products the problem cannot be solved.

The Environmental Audit Committee’s disposable drinks packaging inquiry, which was relaunched this month after being disrupted by the General Election, may provide some insight into what the best approach really is. The inquiry will examine what actions are being taken by industry and government to reduce waste generated by takeaway cups and plastic bottles, and investigate possible solutions.

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