University of Kent (UK) How the disposable cup problem is reaching boiling point
As the cold weather sets in and people reach for a hot drink, researchers from Kent Business School warn how disposable coffee cup waste is still placing a huge strain on the environment.
In the UK, 2.5 billion coffee cups are used and discarded annually. Only 0.25 percent of these cups, or less than 1 in 400, are recycled.
The KBS study has found our local region faces a ‘threefold’ challenge to tackling coffee cup waste, including a lack of consumer awareness about disposal, lack of infrastructure and an inability to roll out initiatives to boost sustainable options. The study, funded by the Low Carbon Kent team of Kent County Council (KCC) was carried out by Dr Preetam Basu and Professor Thanos Papadopoulos. It explored the scale of the disposable coffee cup problem in county Kent.
The team found a lack of consumer awareness about ‘why’ and ‘how’ these coffee cups should be disposed and a lack of infrastructure to tackle the issue. They also found that initiatives tried in the past, like giving out rewards for reusable cups have been associated with ‘low awareness and uptake’.
Professor Thanos Papadopoulos said: ‘While more people are aware of and actively engaged in recycling, when it comes to coffee cups, we are still in hot water. While initiatives like giving out rewards for reusable cups were touted as a solution to the problem, they’ve not proved to be the silver bullet needed.
‘The findings of the study point to a solution that requires a broader collaboration between the local authority (city councils), coffee selling outlets in Kent, a sustainable coffee cup manufacturer and a paper waste collection company. The country needs to develop a paper cup that can be recycled curb side, a dedicated cup collection infrastructure and a public coffee cup recycling campaign.
‘People also need more clarity about “why” and “how” coffee cups should be disposed of, as well as better infrastructure for recycling them. At a local level a broader collaboration between the local authority (city councils), coffee selling outlets, a sustainable coffee cup manufacturer and a paper waste collection company is needed. Developing a paper cup that can be recycled curb side, a dedicated cup collection infrastructure and a public coffee cup recycling campaign would help people enjoy a hot drink on the go, without the eco-guilt.’
The researchers found that there was a lack of public recycling bins in high streets throughout the county alongside an issue with PLA, the main substance used in compostable coffee cups which is generally only considered suitable for commercial composting. The outlets they questioned also highlighted a lack of suitable waste collection services for such cups.
Dr Preetam Basu concluded: ‘The annual consumption of disposable coffee cups in Kent, utilising the UK-wide average per person consumption and Kent population data is 68,634,000. It is estimated that only 0.25% (one in four hundred) of disposable coffee cups are actually recycled in the UK. This suggests that only 171,585 disposable cups make it into recycling each year with the rest – over 68 million – ending up in landfill.’