DS Smith proposes UK coffee cup waste solution

DS Smith proposes UK coffee cup waste solution

Packaging company DS Smith is claiming it can provide a solution to the UK’s disposable coffee cup waste problem following research into potential reprocessing options for the hard-to-recycle item.

With the UK’s disposable coffee cup waste topping 30,000 tonnes a year, equivalent to 2.5 billion cups, and only 0.25 per cent of these making it into recycling, calls for action to tackle the problem have been growing more urgent.

After months of research, the company announced yesterday (19 March) that it believes it can recycle all the UK’s coffee cup waste at its paper mill in Kent. The Kemsley mill is the second biggest recovered-fibre paper operation in Europe, with an annual capacity of around 800,000 tonnes.

This announcement is the culmination of industrial-scale research begun in January on behalf of the Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group (PCRRG), which tested the feasibility of making non-food contact papers from used coffee cups.

Disposable cups tend to present an issue for reprocessors due to their mixed material composition - a paper outer surface coupled with a plastic lining - as well as the high potential for contamination in the waste stream.

For these reasons, most do not accept the cups, despite many consumers being under the impression that they can be recycled, due in part to the widespread use of the Mobius Loop symbol on cups to denote recycled or part-recycled material.

DS Smith has written to the PCRRG with details of its capacity, but has also called on the government to improve collection infrastructure in order to facilitate more recycling. Coffee cups are generally used on-the-go, but a lack of collection points in consumer hubs like train stations and shopping centres means that the items most often end up in residual waste bins.

DS Smith proposes UK coffee cup waste solution
DS Smith's paper mill in Kent, where the coffee cups could be recycled

Peter Clayson, General Manager for DS Smith Recycling, commented: “We have been working around the clock to solve the throwaway coffee cup challenge, as enjoying a latte has become part of British culture. We could recycle up to two and a half billion cups each year, but we need the recycling collection infrastructure to be far better if we are to reach the goal of recycling every last cup.

“There are two challenges to recycling a high volume of coffee cups. Firstly, there is the plastic lining that must be removed from the cups. Then we need to ensure that the cups have not been too badly soiled by food waste. If we can work together with local councils, coffee sellers, and the waste management sector to improve segregation of the cups and develop a comprehensive collection infrastructure, we can make a huge difference together.”

Debate has grown around whether the focus should be on improving recycling or reducing consumption, with Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) calling repeatedly for the government to introduce a 25 pence charge on disposable cups in order to encourage the uptake of reusable alternatives, with revenue from the charge going to fund the UK’s recycling infrastructure. However, the government response to the EAC’s recent report on coffee cup waste stated that it prefers to support voluntary commitments by retailers over legislative action.

Read more: Starbucks trials disposable coffee cup charge

In other company news, DS Smith has recently expanded its European operations with the announcement of the €208-million (£182.5 million) acquisition of the combined paper and packaging businesses EcoPack and EcoPaper in Romania.

Speaking on the acquisition was Group Chief Executive, Miles Roberts, who said: “We continue to grow very strongly throughout Eastern Europe. This exciting acquisition will further expand our position and capability, providing an important platform for the continued development of our innovative ‘performance packaging’ programme in the region.”

More information about DS Smith’s coffee cup recycling campaign can be found on the company website.

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