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Recycling body worries about contamination as Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘war on waste’ returns to the BBC

The Recycling Association has raised concerns that the quality of paper cup recycling could suffer following the national campaign kicked off by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, which will be featured in a one-off episode of Hugh’s War on Waste on BBC1 tonight at 9pm.

The programme will update viewers on the issues raised in previous episodes and also explore the wasteful matter of excess packaging used by Amazon and those infamous disposable coffee cups used by high street coffee shops. 

In March, Fearnley-Whittingstall caused a stir in the national media when he took to the streets of London to highlight what he said were false claims made by companies like Starbucks and Costa regarding the recyclability of their disposable cups.

2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away every year in the UK, but given their complicated structure there is only one UK company – Simply Cups – that currently has facilities to recycle them and it only has the capacity to handle six million cups a year.

Following Fearnley-Whittingstall’s criticism a levy similar to the carrier bag charge was suggested, and an industry-wide ‘Paper Cup Manifesto’ has been launched and signed by 30 signatories including Costa, Caffe Nero and Starbucks, committing them to significantly increase paper cup recovery and recycling rates by 2020.

A number of potential solutions to the design of the cups have also been suggested to faiclitate recycling. Starbucks have said that they will test a cup designed by FrugalPac that enables cups to be put in with the cardboard waste stream, while Nextek and AShortWalk have developed a resin made from coffee cups that can be moulded into a multitude of strong and durable products.

Recycling Association raises concerns

However, despite the progress being made, the Recycling Association, which has over 80 members of waste and recycling operators around the UK, has expressed concerns that efforts to recycle more coffee cups could lead to contamination to the rest of the paper recycling stream.

Recycling body worries about contamination as Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘war on waste’ returns to the BBCSimon Ellin, the association’s Chief Executive, said: “By their nature, even these cups when emptied will contain residue of tea, coffee or hot chocolate, all of which will act as a contaminant if mixed with other types of cardboard, office paper or newspaper. Plus, the plastic lids may also get mixed in with other sources of paper requiring more sorting and impacting on quality.”

Ellin states that while Fearnley-Whittingstall’s attempt to encourage less waste are welcome, care must be taken to avoid reducing the quality of the recyclable material. He continued: “The Recycling Association is always interested in finding a solution, so we are happy to be a part of a joined-up approach in the supply chain, to find a way for these cups to be recycled without damaging the existing recycling materials.”

Revisiting FareShare

In the first two episodes of the series, which aired last November, Fearnley-Whittingstall investigated food and household waste across the supply chain. Visiting a Norfolk parsnip farm the chef revealed the huge amount of waste that is produced by the strict cosmetic standards required of the fruit and vegetables provided by farmers. He also explored the waste produced in fast food shops such as KFC, as well as visiting a material recovery facility (MRF) to show how recyclable materials are sorted and processed.

The chef, whose public campaigning helped him reach number one in Resource’s Hot 100 list of 2015, also visited the FareShare Merseyside team to find out more about the redistribution of good food to nearly 2,500 frontline charities and community groups across the UK. In tonight’s episode Fearnley-Whittingstall visits another of FareShare’s 20 Regional Centres, this time in Southampton.

Among the new issues that Fearnley-Whittingstall will address tonight is that of wasteful packaging, identifying the biggest culprit as Amazon. The programme will follow the chef to Amazon’s biggest UK distribution centre and see him speak with a global packaging expert from America about the problem. 

You can find our review of the first set of episodes of Hugh's War on Waste here

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