The Coffee Crisis: The Consequences of the Plastic Cup

Each year, 2.5bn plastic coffee cups are used in the UK alone. Less than 1% of these are recycled. That’s around 2.48bn non-recycled coffee cups every single year - in one country.

Why exactly is it that so many of these cups go straight into our waste bins? The problem doesn’t even mainly lie with a lack of consumer responsibility - in fact, it’s the difficulty of ripping out the plastic lining which the cups usually come with.

A number of the major coffee chains, including Costa, Starbucks and Caffè Nero, have been accused of misleading customers by printing the three arrows symbol on their cups, when in fact they’re “virtually impossible” to recycle.

The coffee crisis extends further than cups too - with the infamous and increasingly popular espresso ‘pods’ claimed to be environmentally more damaging. Authorities in German city Hamburg have even banned these pods from council buildings on recycling grounds.

The issue was highlighted further by environment minister, Rory Stewart, who suggested that coffee cups ought to carry a similar tax as that imposed on the plastic bag - referring to it as a “huge” problem.

However, Peter Godwin of Simply Cups, a specialist paper cup recycler, claims that  “the technology is now there to strip the plastic lining off the cups, so they are now a viable thing to recycle.”

Simply Cups have collected over 10m coffee cups from airports, sporting venues and fast food chains from around the World, giving them a second wave of life.

One of the UK’s biggest coffee chains, Starbucks, have hit back at critics by incentivising their coffee-lovers to bring their own reused plastic cups, with a 50p discount on every drink they bring a cup for, trialling this initiative for two months starting from April.

The big question remains: when will these staggering statistics be curbed?