Having previously blogged for Green Hampshire early this year about the fantastic #2minutebeachclean campaign, I wanted to look into other areas of litter & waste. During the beach cleans I often collect take away coffee cups, along with “disposable” cutlery & straws, especially on beaches that have kiosk & cafés. Coffee is now firmly embedded into British culture coupled with our increasingly throwaway society, it’s no wonder that 2.5 billion cups a year (close to 5000 every minute!) are dished out across the country every day. No high street is completed without Costa Coffee & Starbucks; Southampton city centre has multiple outlets of both. Add to this fast, food chains are now serving fresh coffee to go, along with self-service machines in nearly every petrol station. I've noticed a sharp increase in coffee related roadside litter while driving & cycling around the New Forest, as coffee becomes more and more conveniently available. Not to mention the growing number of great independent coffee shops selling hand crafted coffee, a caffeine fix is never far away.
Early this year Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall investigated the issue, as the latest battle in his fantastic War on Waste series, revealing the common misconception that these cups are recyclable & are regularly recycled. While the outer sleeve is cardboard & recyclable, the inner part of the cup is treated with polyethylene to make them water resistant and thereby destined for landfill (or alternatively roadsides & coastline). The BBC One Program, screened in July, helped to increase awareness & along with subsequent social media campaign, called on the UK’s main players to start to address the issue. Standard take away cups require a special process to be able to be recycled, so special that there is just a single facility in the country, Simply Cups. Shockingly just 6 million are recycled each year, that’s about a quarter of 1% of cups dished out by retailers each year, despite good intentioned but confused consumers depositing millions of cups in mix recycling bins.
A Day In the Life of a Coffee Cup
During winter consumption escalates, obviously hot drinks are more popular in colder months, added to that the increased footfall to shopping centres & high streets in the (long drawn out) Christmas shopping period. And in recent years coffee chains have not only been adding festive flavours to their range think minced pie & gingerbread, but also increasing offering special take away cups with various Santa, snowflake & reindeer designs.
So as it looks like the major chains are moving very slowly in the right direction, although all feature extensive responsibility claims on their websites. It’s up to individual consumers to reduce the environmental impact of their coffee, while also saving some money too! Most retailers offer some sort of incentive for customers using a reusable cup. Starbucks offer a 25p discount per drink, although there are plans to double that, as well as reusable cups from just a £1 available in their coffee shops. The UK’s largest chain, the omnipresent Costa coffee, donate 25p for each use to Keep Britain Tidy & other litter charities, while Pret, who donate all left over food to homeless projects, are “generous” to customers who reuse, but have no firm policy in place. Local coffee chain Mettricks offer double loyalty stamps to Southampton coffee lovers who bring in a reusable cup.
Which bring us on to reusable cups; they come in every size, colour & design imaginable and range from just a pound up to £50. Ecoffee Cup sells some brilliant designed bamboo cups as part of their #Stopthe100billion campaign and KeepCup have a wide range made from various sustainable materials. You can even support our coastline with an organic cup from Surfers against Sewage!
3 other ways to make your coffee more ethical.
- Go topless! If you can ditch the lid.
- Cause a stir by refusing plastic spoons & stirrers.
- Go local, support the little independent shops.