Four solutions to the disposable coffee cup problem

11th October 2017 | Recycling

Since last year, when we were all made aware of the UK’s unrecycled cup mountain, some of us have found it hard to buy a takeaway coffee without being wracked with guilt. In the UK, we throw away an estimated 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year. In theory, they are “recyclable”, but in practice, only a tiny percentage is dealt with sustainably.

Parliament’s environmental audit committee has been hearing the latest thought from campaigner and industry on how we can improve on our record in this area. A lot of the biggest names in takeaway beverages, including Caffe Nero, Costa Coffee, McDonald’s, Pret A Manger and Starbucks, have signed up to a scheme to collect and recycle more of the current type of cups. Cost is also collecting cups from rival brands in its shops.

Disposable Coffee Cup

Here are four ways the coffee cup waste problem might be tackled.

Frugalpac – Just change the cups
Conventional cups can be recycled, but only in special facilities thanks to the lamination that makes them waterproof. Frugalpac, based in Ipswich in the UK, manufactures cardboard cups that can be recycled in regular recycling plants.

CupClub – Like city bike rental for cups
Safia Qureshi points to chai wallahs in India as one of her initial inspirations. There, tea is poured into glasses which are washed and reused. We all used to drink milk and Coca Cola from returnable, reusable bottles.

Triocup – the origami cup
Tom Chan, an engineering student from Hong Kong studying in the US, said he saw the coffee cups piling up in the rubbish bins outside his university building and wanted to do something about it. He has now patented his TrioCup, a triangular-shaped cardboard cup, with sticking up flaps “like bunny ears”. Those ears can be folded down and tucked in to close it.

Cupffee – the edible cup
The ultimate waste-free cup, though, must be this: a coffee cup made of cereals that you can munch on like an ice cream cone, once you’ve downed your drink. Three friends form Plovdiv in Bulgaria came up with their “waffle” recipe containing no preservatives, colourings or coatings a few years ago and have been working on commercialising it ever since.

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