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Disposable coffee cups: How big of an environmental problem are they and are we doing enough?

As a nation, we love our coffee and our coffee shops. According to parliamentary papers there are four times as many coffee shops in the UK than there were in the year 2000, with 20% of the population visiting a coffee shop daily. It has been estimated that 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year - that’s approximately 7 million cups a day!
Almost all the high street coffee shop chains now run a recycling scheme which tries to encourage people to bring their own reusable cup, but are these schemes actually working?

What is the problem?
The reason why this enormous number of cups is such a problem on the environment is that they are difficult to recycle. The lining on the takeaway cups is a mixture of paper and plastic which is used to make the cups both heatproof and leakproof. However, this makes them difficult to recycle. The figures suggest that the vast majority of cups (more than 99%) are not recycled, even if they are thrown into the recycling bin.

The success of documentaries such as Blue Planet has forced people to realise what a huge problem plastic is on our planet, as it takes years to break down if not recycled, adversely impacting the natural environment. The plastic is not the only problem. The paper element of the cups has environmental issues of its own. Trees must be felled to produce products that only end up being used for the length of time it takes for someone to drink a cup of coffee.

What schemes are coffee shops running to help?
Recently there have been many schemes set up in coffee shop chains in order to try and encourage customers to bring their own reusable cup. Starbucks, Nero, Costa and Pret a Manger all offer a discount of between 25p and 50p when customer present their own cup.

Costa were also the first coffee chain to turn their stores into recycling points for people to place all of their takeaway cups, regardless of the brand.

Despite these efforts though there have been backlash saying that some places are still using disposable cups to pour the coffee in before putting it in the reusable cup, thus defeating the point.

What are some other options?
It is not just the coffee chains themselves that are coming up with ideas to reduce waste. Shrewsbury have become the first city to offer a cup deposit return scheme in the UK. A selection of cafes across the town let you buy a bright reusable cup for £1 which can be refunded when you return the cup to a participating store. The trial of the scheme was a success, leading to it being rolled out across the town centre a few months later. The cups can be used hundreds of times and created from a good quality plastic which will last.

There are also companies trying to develop completely biodegradable cups. Others have suggested a coffee fine for using a reusable cup is a solution, thinking that the discount off a drink is not enough of an incentive and psychologically people will do more to avoid a fine than to receive a discount.

Here at LSPS, recycling is of great importance to us and we help businesses and individuals all across Leicestershire to reduce the amount of their waste that ends up at landfill sites. Our Waste Transfer Station is open to traders and has an extensive range of state-of-the-art equipment.

To find out how we can help with your waste disposal needs please contact us on 0800 083 7807 or visit our website for further information.

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