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Trending: Finally, Real Solutions to Tackle Coffee Cup Waste

Image credit: LUSH

With millions of disposable coffee cups finding their way into landfill each year, businesses and local authorities across the globe have been searching for ways to increase recycling and recovery of the single-use item. Building on the success of previous in-store cup and pilot recycling schemes, major brands in the UK have launched two permanent solutions for scaling coffee cup recycling.

First, beginning next year, all ACE UK recycling banks in 97 local authorities across the UK will begin accepting paper cups for recycling. The move was prompted by an agreement between the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE) and 14 cross-industry collaborators, including Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero, Greggs, McDonald’s UK, Nestlé and Starbucks.

Nearly 400 recycling points will open their doors to the disposable product, with an additional 33 points planned for the next phase of the program. The group is also working on expanding the program to include curbside collection, much in the same vein as carton recycling.

“The paper cup industry is facing very similar recycling challenges to the ones the beverage carton industry faced when we started our program ten years ago,” said Richard Hands, CEO of ACE UK.

“Whilst our primary focus will remain on increasing beverage carton recycling, we believe our expertise, experience and existing relationships can help the paper cup industry create a step change in cup recycling. Whilst it is early days, we have a clear measured plan agreed and expect to see significant progress in cup recycling over the next two years and beyond.”

The scheme is expected to have a ripple effect, prompting the adoption of similar programs for office buildings and beyond. What’s more, it could help create new circular opportunities, with the recovered cups being used to produce new products and materials. “By generating greater volumes of cups for recycling, this will create a market for the material, making cups more attractive to waste management companies…” said Neill Whittall, Chair of the Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group.

The ACE program furthers efforts undertaken by UK businesses to reduce waste from coffee cups. Earlier this year, Costa Coffee partnered with Veolia to launch a cup take-back scheme in more than 2,000 locations across the UK, while Starbucks introduced front-of-house recycling bins for paper cups in its shops and a 50p discount to customers using their own coffee cups in 2016 — both of which were spurred by a campaign launched by chef-turned-activist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall calling on coffee brands to be more transparent about their cups. Between January and April 2017, the City of London Corporation teamed up with Network Rail and local coffee chains to introduce dedicated coffee cup recycling facilities in offices, shops and streets in central London.


Meanwhile, Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics has partnered with James Cropper 3D Products to create reusable and biodegradable packaging. The sustainable, bespoke packaging features James Cropper’s signature Coulourform™, a renewable, recyclable, molded fiber packaging that combines renewable natural fibers and recycled coffee cups. The process utilizes a technology designed by James Cropper that separates out the plastic content from the cup, leaving behind pulp that can be used to make paper.

“Lush is a company that truly holds sustainability at its core and it’s been fantastic to work with such an ethical and forward-thinking brand. The packaging we’ve developed together will not only bolster Lush’s green credentials, but also help consumers to recycle with ease — a benefit that is welcomed now more than ever,” said Matthew Miller, Business Director at James Cropper 3D Products.

The collaboration resulted in the creation of a square, hinged-clamshell container that meets aesthetic and technical requirements, such as the ability to withstand the moisture of Lush’s bath products. Customers can reuse the packaging at Lush’s stores or recycle it with household paper. And, thanks to its naturally biodegradable nature, it won’t leave a trace even if it does wind up in landfill.

“The challenge for this project was really set by the need to elevate the customer experience when shopping our bath oil category, coupled with sincere considerations around waste, single-use materials and functional design,” said Kirstie Maclean, member of the R&D/Brand Production team at Lush. “James Cropper was the ideal choice — a British mill enthusiastic to embark on developmental projects and push innovation. The relationship has been open and supportive. The outcome — a slick, sustainable, lightweight and transportable box to allow the customer a ‘pick-and-mix’ experience with the products.”

The reusable packaging has already been introduced in major UK stores and online in September, with global rollout to follow.


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]


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