Heathrow pledges to recycle 13.5 million coffee cups a year

Heathrow airport is joining the fight against disposable coffee cups with the announcement that it wants to recycle all cups sold on the premises by the end of the year.

In light of its controversial plans for a third runway, the airport has been upping its focus on environmentally-friendly actions with its ‘Heathrow 2.0’ sustainability strategy, launched in March last year. The strategy, a ‘plan for sustainable growth’, contains laudable goals including becoming a zero carbon airport - and indeed, ground operations have been running entirely on renewable energy since April 2017. The airport has also committed to the global EV100 initiative, promising to switch all cars, large vans, and 50 per cent of its heavy goods vehicles to electric or plug-in hybrid by 2030.

Heathrow pledges to recycle 13.5 million coffee cups a year

Heathrow’s plans for cutting waste, announced on Monday (23 April), include a plan to enable all retail and business partners to recycle disposable coffee cups by introducing a standardised recyclable cup to be sold across the airport and providing a network of dedicated collection points around the site.


The news follows the announcement from coffee chain Costa, one of Heathrow’s retail partners at the airport, that it plans to recycle half a million cups a year by 2020, the same amount it places on the market annually. A need to improve collection infrastructure in ‘on-the-go’ locations like travel hubs and shopping centres was noted by both Costa and DS Smith, with the packaging company revealing it has the capacity to recycle all the UK’s coffee cup waste (a staggering 2.5 billion per year) at its paper mill in Kent, but only if collection facilities are developed significantly.

Heathrow’s crusade against cups is ambitious given the airport gets through over 13.5 million coffee cups every year. The second phase of its plan will be to explore how to encourage the uptake of reusable cups in order to phase out single-use cups entirely. Heathrow trialled a reusable coffee cup scheme in its head office, which it claims cut the use of disposable cups by 250,000 per year, though it is unclear how such a scheme would be implemented on an airport-wide scale, with over 200,000 passengers flocking through arrivals and departures every day.

A statement from the airport added that it would ‘work towards removing all single use plastics from sale, such as bottles, straws and stirrers’, though no date has been set for when this goal might be achieved. The measure could possibly become a legal obligation next year – Prime Minister Theresa May announced on 19 April that the government will be consulting on how to implement a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds.

John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s Chief Executive, commented: “We are committed to reducing our impact on the environment and using all our influence to ensure individual companies working within our boundaries do so as well. This announcement takes us one step further, ensuring all single-use coffee cups at the airport are able to be recycled with additional support from Heathrow.

"For businesses, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee – join us in banning single-use coffee cups in your office today so that we can make a difference to tomorrow.” 

Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg welcomed the news, saying: “I’m delighted to see Heathrow taking action to introduce recyclable coffee cups. Through our aviation strategy we’ll be working with industry to reduce the use of single-use plastics at airports and in the air so we can leave our planet in a better state than which we found it. Steps could include encouraging the wider installation of water fountains in airports to enable passengers to refill their bottles once they have passed through security.”

Opposition to Heathrow’s expansion naturally stems from something ground operations cannot influence: the inescapable rise in greenhouse gas emissions that will come with allowing a new runway’s worth of additional flights into British airspace. While the airport’s ground-level measures to improve its environmental footprint are welcome, they may not have an impact on those contesting runway expansion.

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