Around the world, billions of disposable coffee cups are used and thrown in the trash. But even though they are made of paper, the vast majority of these – over 99 percent – will end up in a landfill. Despite what many large coffee chains may want you to believe, the cups are not recyclable, but this could be able to change as in the UK Starbucks will begin trialing a newly developed version that can be.
Earlier this year, it emerged that in the UK only around one in every 400 disposable cups ever made it to a recycling plant, and with 2.5 billion of the things being handed out in the nation each year, that is a lot of waste. While there were calls for the government to impose a tax on the cups in order to try and encourage consumers to use fewer, similar to how taxing disposable plastic bags has led to an 80 percent drop in their use, the government decided not to go down this route. This has led to others trying to find an alternative.
So why can’t we produce a cup that can hold coffee, but can also be recycled? This is exactly what British entrepreneur and engineer Martin Myerscough set out to create, eventually settling upon the Frugalpac cup. While it is still made in essentially the same way, a paper cup laminated with plastic, the thin film lining is designed to come away from the paper in a much more efficient manner, leaving 100 percent recyclable paper behind. This, he hopes, will mean that far fewer of the coffee cups will end up simply being taken to landfill.
"We are very interested in finding out more about the Frugalpac cup and we will be testing it to see if it meets our standards for safety and quality, with a view to trialling its recyclability," a Starbucks spokesperson said, reported The Guardian. The trial by the coffee giant will be shown in a TV programme broadcast in the UK, Hugh's War on Waste, which airs on BBC1 on July 28.
So far, the main barrier preventing the big coffee giants like Starbucks from recycling is, effectively, money. The sad fact is that with the current plastic-lined paper cups, it is simply not cost effective to run the equipment that could see the 4 billion cups a year used in the US alone turned back into more cups. Yet that hasn’t stopped these companies from implying that that is exactly what they are doing, a practice that has led to campaigners accusing them of misleading the public.
Starbucks, and many other coffee chains, are no fools, though, and know that many of their customers are environmentally conscious. They have tried tapping into this trend, with Starbucks announcing in 2008 that it will offer recycling at all branches in America by 2015, before quietly dropping that promise in 2013 when they realized that they would never hit the target, or stores in the UK issuing cardboard sleeves with their cups that announce their recyclability, without making it clear that this does not refer to the cup itself.