The DNA of a takeaway cup

There is no disputing the fact that not enough takeaway cups – whether from a leading high street brand, or a small local independent – are being recycled.  As the UK’s leading coffee shop we believe it is right that the industry as a whole is challenged to confront the issue and to provide solutions to our customers.

Unfortunately it’s a complex issue and one we cannot address alone. A solution requires the support of our competitors, manufacturers, waste companies, local authorities and customers.  As the first signatory of the Paper Cup Manifesto, we have committed to working collaboratively with the supply chain to address the challenges of takeaway cup recycling.

Takeaway cups are, by their very nature, portable. Where they end up once they’ve left a coffee shop is currently dependent on the consumer using it and what waste disposal that consumer has access to. Access to the right waste disposal is dependent on the customers’ geographic location and where they finish using the cup – at home, in an office or on the street.

To dispose of a cup correctly it must be empty – free from liquid and or waste (many consumers currently use takeaway cups as ‘mini bins’ prior to throwing them away). Any contamination in a takeaway cup can seriously affect its recyclability. The recovering and contamination of takeaway cups is a problem – regardless of the material the cup is made from.

So if a cup is empty, recovered and makes its way to a recycling facility it will be recycled? Not necessarily. Many facilities view takeaway cups as too difficult to recycle. Why? Well, the DNA of a cup is simple – a sustainably sourced paper board with a thin layer of plastic applied to one side to ensure the cup is waterproof and safe. The materials used are no different to other packaging, such as sandwich packaging and porridge pots. So why are takeaway cups not recycled like porridge pots?

We intend to find out. For the first time we have partnered with Sheffield University to map the life of cup once it leaves our store and better understand how a Costa takeaway cup reacts when put in a standard paper recycling. The outcome – due towards the end of the year – will be shared with competitors and we hope to be able to help our customers put the right materials in the right bins.

Product design can play a key role in improving the recyclability of the cups.  We met with FrugalPac early last year but concluded that the cup on offer at the time did not meet our high standard of performance, quality and taste. We have an on-going development programme with our cup manufacturer, Huhtamaki, who regularly review the environmental performance of our takeaway cup. When new innovation comes to market it is essential that we review and test it. If a product or process is fit for purpose then it is in our best interest to make sure we are first to take it to market.

Despite the complexities we are taking positive steps. We know long term change cannot happen overnight so have committed to some short term action.

  • In-store recycling bins – a trial across stores in Manchester and London has seen successful numbers of takeaway cups being recovered and recycled when stores are provided with back of house recycling bins. We are currently looking at how best this can be rolled out.
  • We are encouraging our customers to use reusable cups in store, to reduce waste. Each time a reusable cup is used in store we are donating to one of three litter charities – Keep Britain Tidy, Keep Scotland Beautiful and Keep Wales Tidy.
  • Finally, we have removed the Möbius Loop (recycling logo) from our cups. Until we are satisfied that more of our takeaway cups are being recycled we have decided to replace the logo with the Tidyman symbol to encourage responsible disposal.

Keep up to date with our on-going work at costa.co.uk/our-cups