Resource Use

German city trials reusable coffee cup scheme

The German university city of Freiburg has launched a new reusable coffee cup deposit scheme aiming to reduce coffee cup waste, with 16 outlets signed up in the German state of Baden-Württemberg so far.

The ‘Freiburg Cup’ is a reusable coffee cup made from dishwasher-proof plastic that can be obtained from participating outlets, including the city’s university cafés, in exchange for a deposit of one euro. The cup can be used hundreds of times before being returned.German city trials reusable coffee cup scheme

Local councils have provided the cups, which are washed in the cafés and bakeries that have signed up to the scheme before being made available for redistribution to the public. Because of the state support, both participating businesses and consumers “do not incur any costs” (apart from losing your €1 deposit if you lose your cup), according to Freiburg’s mayor, Gerda Stuchlik.

With 2.8 billion single-use coffee cups being sent to landfill every year in Germany, and 320,000 disposable cups being handed over to customers every hour, the problem of coffee cup waste in Germany, as in the UK, has become more and more apparent in recent years, with similar schemes to the ‘Freiburg Cup’ operating in the cities of Tubingen, Rosenheim, and Berlin.

A response is brewing?

In the UK, the issue of coffee cup waste has also been making headlines this year, following television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign to reduce food and food packaging waste from early this year. His BBC series Hugh’s War on Waste revealed that an estimated 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away in the UK every year, while just 0.25 per cent of them are recycled.

The difficulty in their recyclability arises from their complex structure, which sees the paper cup bonded with a thin layer of plastic to make it waterproof. These two materials can only be separated during the recycling process using specialist technology only available at two plants in the UK.

Several potential solutions to the issue have been put forward in recent months, following government’s decision not to subject the cups to a charge similar to the 5p plastic bag fee. In June of this year, a new recycling process developed by Nextek and AShortWalk, in collaboration with Simply Cups, turns disposable coffee cups into a resin, removing the separation aspect of the recycling process, that is ‘much stronger than conventional plastics’ according to Dr Johnathan Mitchell of Nextek.

A recycling scheme in partnership with environmental charity Hubbub is under way in Manchester and aims to save 20,000 cups from landfill and recycle them using Nextek and AShortWalk’s resin process.

Furthermore, a new paper cup designed by British company Frugalpac, which only has a thin plastic layer and claims to be recyclable in normal paper mills, is to be trialled by Starbucks in a bid to reduce waste.

However, response from the retail industry itself has been limited, although Starbucks does now offer a 25p discount for customers that bring their own reusable cups to their outlets, and industry leaders signed the ‘Paper Cup Manifesto’ this summer, pledging to ‘significantly’ increase recycling by 2020.


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