High street brands unveil plan to cut paper cup waste

A partnership of businesses, retailers and suppliers has announced a voluntary agreement to increase the recovery and recycling of paper cups after a media storm criticised the waste caused by disposable cups earlier this year.

In response to both the recent media attention and consumer concern over the recycling of paper cups, the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) and Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group (PCRRG) yesterday (27 June) launched ‘The Paper Cup Manifesto’, an industry-wide initiative with the objective of significantly increasing paper cup recovery and recycling rates by 2020.

An estimated 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away in the UK every year, a fact brought to the public’s attention in March through celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste campaign. The figure is the equivalent to 5,000 cups being thrown away every minute, or seven million a day, and Fearnley-Whittingstall says that just 0.25 per cent of them are recycled.

The manifesto has more than 30 signatories, representing each stage of the paper cup supply chain from raw material suppliers, cup manufacturers and retail high street brands to waste and recovery operators and paper reprocessors. The voluntary commitment, funded by its members, aims to deliver systematic change that will increase the sustainable recovery and recycling rates of used paper cups.

It pledges: ‘The paper cup supply chain agrees to work together to ensure paper cups are designed, used, disposed of and collected to maximise the opportunities for recycling by further investment and funding of recycling, disposal and collection projects.’

As part of the Manifesto, six working groups based around litter, partnerships, recycling infrastructure, communications and engagement, product sustainability and engagement and commitment will be established. Together the signatories will:

  • Implement research and projects to understand the current lifecycle of used paper cups and identify opportunities to maximise recovery and recycling rates; 
  • Engage with Ggvernment, other bodies and interested parties to explore ways in which to support the implementation of the Manifesto work programme; 
  • Build on existing capabilities, skills and experiences to support and engage consumers and provide consistent recycling messaging and facilities; and
  • Deliver a range of initiatives that will allow consumers and the wider industry to increase the recycling and recovery of paper cups.

In the fallout to Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign, which was publicised in the national media, Resources Minister Rory Stewart suggested that a disposable cup levy similar to that on carrier bags could work to reduce the waste, although there are currently no plans within government to develop the idea.

Following the publicity, though, some initiatives have recently emerged to prevent disposable cup waste, such as a project aiming to turn whole coffee cups into durable resin products.

The publication of the manifesto has been achieved following two summit meetings in April and May 2016, with the delivery plan to be further finalised during the summer months.

High street brands sign up to plan to cut paper cup waste
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall campaigned against disposable coffee cups earlier this year
The PCRRG includes organisations form across the paper cup supply chain and exists to develop collection and recycling opportunities for paper cups and to identify solutions to turn them into resources. Its Chairman Neil Whittall said: “Whilst previous work has given a good insight into what is required, it is recognised that it is only through an increased industry collaboration that the pace of change can be increased to meet the challenge that has been set out.”

Problems with paper cup recycling

Disposable cups are classed as multi-material wastes as they contain both paper fibres and a waxed or polyethylene lining. This separation aspect poses a challenge to recycling processors. Only one UK company, Simply Cups, currently has a specialist facility to deal with single-use cups.

Packaging producer and recycler DS Smith, one of the manifesto’s signatories, has experienced problems with recycling disposable cups, labelling them as a ‘contaminant’ in its packaging mill feed stocks due to their need to spend a longer time in pulpers to break down the paper fibres for recycling compared with mono-material recyclable paper and card.

Peter Clayson, General Manager for External Affairs and Business Development at DS Smith, commented: “The company has experienced quality issues with its final reprocessed paper, when wax and polythene contaminated fibres from paper cups become impregnated in the final product.”

Dr Jim Malone, Head of Recycling at DS Smith, added: “We recognise the recyclability of coffee cups is a significant issue. When the cups are improperly discarded, they are a highly visible source of litter.

“There are a number of pieces of research being undertaken to produce recyclable cups and we are willing to collaborate with all sectors of the supply cycle to engineer a recyclable solution.”

More information on the manifesto is available at the FPA’s website.

The 30 signatories that have signed up are:

4 Aces Ltd
Benders Paper Cups
Bio bean
British Plastics Association
British Soft Drinks Association
Bunzl Catering Supplies
Caffè Nero
Clean Up Britain (CLUB)
Costa/Whitbread Group Plc
Confederation of Paper Industries
James Cropper
Dart Products Europe
DS Smith
First Mile
Foodservice Packaging Association
Havi Global Solutions
Huhtamaki UK
Keep Britain Tidy
Keep Scotland Beautiful
Kent Resource Partnership
Marks & Spencer
Maxabel International
McDonald’s Restaurants
Moto Hospitality
The Packaging Federation
The Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group
Pelican Rouge Coffee Solutions
Pret A Manger
Seda UK
South Cambridgeshire DC and Cambridge City Council
Starbucks Coffee Company
Stora Enso
University of Sheffield Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre
Waitrose/John Lewis Partnership
Yum! Brands/KFC

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