RoadChef recycling scheme turns coffee cups to paper and packaging

Motorway services operator Roadchef has recently announced a partnership with Costa Coffee and McDonalds UK to co-fund a coffee cup recycling programme. The move comes as part of the National Cup Recycling Scheme, which aims to drive recycling of takeaway cups across the country.

Administered by Valpak, the partnership will introduce 65 recycling units across Roadchef’s UK locations. The units, designed by Unisan UK, aim to encourage consumers to correctly dispose of their cups and make it easy for them to do so. They will allow travellers to take cups with them while travelling, before disposing of them in the units at the next Roadchef location in their journey.

Once collected via Costa Coffee stores, the cups are backhauled by logistics company GXO to their depot(s), where they are baled and sent to Veolia for decontamination. Then, they are re-baled and sent to James Propper’s specialist facilities, where FibreBlend Upcycled Technology will be used to turn them into luxury paper and packaging, sold to brands such as Mulberry, Burberry, Lush and Selfridges.

The cups are first pulped, in which the plastic and fibre materials are separated. James Cropper floats away the plastics to then make paper and packaging materials using the fibre.

Alongside sale to luxury buyers, Valpak has outlined plans to use the recycled paper to create notebooks and takeaway carrier bags for sale in RoadChefs sites where cups are collected.

The scheme comes in response to Defra’s confirmed mandatory takeback obligation on sellers of filled fibre-based copositive cups, which employ 10 or more full-time staff. Set for introduction in April 2024, this will require companies to provide in-store paper cup collection and recycling systems, from which they must report cup sales and collection volumes.

Helping companies transition to this system, the National Cup Recycling Scheme will provide specialist advice on cup recycling and waste collection, as well an ability to track the number of cups collected and recycled each month.

Richard Burnett, Head of Technology and Innovation at James Cropper said: “As a business that has sustainability at its core, creating a second life for valuable resources and materials that are considered challenging to recycle is hugely rewarding for us.  

"We’re delighted to be part of Roadchef’s commitment to drive circular solutions that reduce waste, which is very much aligned with our own commitment to the war on waste through world class fibre blend innovation. 

“Using our CupCycling expertise we are able to transform the paper cups that are used in their service stations into beautiful new papers for stationery and packaging.”

Laurence Webb, Sustainability Lead for Costa Coffee, said: “At Costa Coffee, we are focused on championing sustainable solutions for cups and packaging, and want to work with other leading brands to drive positive change for the environment.

"This exciting project helps us deliver on both aims and we’re looking forward to seeing how consumers respond so we can further optimise and boost recycling across the country."

McDonald’s Senior Sustainability Consultant, Helen McFarlane, said: “We’re delighted to be collaborating with our partners on this exciting project. We are committed to making it even easier for on-the-go consumers to give their cups a second life, and this is the next step on that journey.

“We hope that, by putting these highly visible bins in some of our most visited locations, we can get the message out there that coffee cups can be recycled, and we will continue to encourage people to return their cups to our restaurants across the country.”

Mike Jackson, Director of Supply Chain Management & Head of Charity at Roadchef said: “Sustainability is top of Roadchef’s agenda, and we’ve been working hard to improve our credentials massively over the last few years to meet our net zero target. Our joint initiative with Costa Coffee and McDonald’s UK will make impactful change and I’m excited that our businesses are coming together to achieve a goal that’s so important to us all.

“Not only will we be recycling coffee cups at all 30 of our sites, but we’re also working on plans to have the recycled cups turned into notebooks that will be sold at our motorway service areas. It’s a closed loop initiative like this where we are really focusing our efforts as they have the potential to make radical steps towards achieving zero waste.”

National Cup Recycling Manager for Valpak, Hannah Osman, added: We are excited to see this new collaborative project launch, with aims to increase the number of coffee cups being captured and recycled through the National Cup Recycling Scheme. To date the National Cup Recycling Scheme has recycled nearly 167 million coffee cups.

“By working with RoadChef to install these bins, we will not only be able to further increase the recycling rates at these high footfall locations but also use it as an opportunity to increase awareness that coffee cups can be recycled."

Speaking to Resource on the promise of this scheme alongside cup deposit schemes, in which customers put down a deposit on takeaway cups which they will earn back when returning it to their point of purchase, the organisations state: “recycling and reuse must work in tandem to tackle the challenge and there is no silver bullet at the moment.”

They continue: “The Scheme brings together major retailers, waste management companies and UK paper mills all with the shared aim of growing the infrastructure needed to increase the number of paper cups being collected and recycled in the UK.

“The National Cup Recycling Scheme offers a viable solution that ensures cups collected are recycled in a closed loop process and made into other products which can be recycled up to 25 times.”

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