Stirring up debate is only a start

Cup of Coffee

MANY of you will no doubt have seen Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recent documentary concerning the fate of UK coffee cups, and how they are not being recycled.

It’s raised lots of debate, which is fabulous, but there are also enormous challenges. I should say from the outset that Hugh wasn’t entirely correct when he claimed these cups couldn’t and weren’t being recycled. They are.

In fact, we are working on a scheme involving the one company recycling cups to provide a solution and products made from the resulting materials.

In truth, though, this scheme will account for such a small proportion of cups used; it’s effectively the same as saying they aren’t being recycled.

Cardboard cups without a plastic constituent would simply fall apart before the boiling tea and coffee has been consumed. This is the great issue with cup recycling.

Two paper mills in the UK are now able to separate the plastic from the card. The resultant waste card can then be successfully used, as can the plastic residue.

Equally, a scheme is now in place to recycle the lids. However, there is a lot more to be done to make this initiative count for anything.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall raised a good point, which needs tackling – but this can only be done through greater education and the use of the recycling triangle.

This triangle in itself does not mean an item is recycled, or even that it can be. The triangle – used on packaging – contains a number which signifies the material the item is made from.

This enables processors to separate waste into material streams so they can be recycled, or kept separate if recycling is not possible.

The use of the triangle has been universally taken up in any or all contexts with any connection to recycling. However, Hugh cited its use on the cups as misleading, claiming people assumed these cups can be recycled and, therefore, they could dispose of them without any sense of guilt.

The biggest hurdle I see, though, is the collection of these items before they can be recycled.

By their very nature, these are the takeaway cups, so they won’t be on the premises once they’re finished with. To have specific collection points ‘in the near vicinity’ is overly ambitious.

How do we stop people from throwing their drinks cans and other rubbish into the cup collection points, thereby massively complicating the reprocessing of the waste for recycling?

Of course, with literally billions of cups in circulation and even more billions going in profits to those selling their wares in these cups, something should be done.

It’s a scandal that so much waste is generated – but if I’m honest, this is just another example of food packaging, and how much of that is recycled while we are on the go? Little to none.

There is one difference – and we can help. Sandwiches and crisps on the go do, of course, have to have their own containers. We can’t have them dispensed into our own Tupperware or use our own bowls and plates. When it comes to drinks, though, we can help.

As consumers, we are the ones who can most quickly and efficiently create the solution – take along our own reusable cups.

The promotions industry is awash with options and we should be promoting these to clients keen to show that they care.

It’s the consumers’ action that will reduce the use of these disposable cups, not big business or well-meaning recycling companies – they will only ever scratch the surface.

Don’t wait for a better solution through recycling – the hurdles are vast. Do watch out for pencils made using these recycled cups, though – we’re working on them already!

This article was first featured here in the September 2016 edition of PPD magazine.