News ID: 209514
Published: 0602 GMT February 06, 2018

UK lacks capacity to deal with biodegradable coffee cups

UK lacks capacity to deal with biodegradable coffee cups

Lack of sufficient waste management infrastructure in the UK means biodegradable cups will not be disposed of adequately, according to industry leaders.

Though biodegradable coffee cups provide a more sustainable alternative to the plastic-lined cups employed by most major coffee chains, they also require specialist management facilities to dispose of them correctly, wrote.

“It’s a problem because at the moment there isn’t huge capacity either for manufacturing or indeed disposing of biodegradable cups,” said Chris Stemman, executive director at the British Coffee Association.

Some smaller coffee retailers are switching to compostable cups in an effort to address the problem of disposable coffee cup waste, he said.

However, as it stands most biodegradable coffee cups are likely to end up on landfill, according to Stemman.

The Independent has launched its Cut the Cup Waste campaign following a call from MPs for the government to deal with the problem of disposable coffee cup use in the UK.

The campaign is promoting the use of reusable cups to replace the cups used by major coffee chains.

“Reusable cups have a serious place, and we would encourage their further use,” said Stemman, noting that he thinks ‘there will always be a place for a one-trip cup’.

The plastic lining on most disposable coffee cups means they cannot be dealt with at conventional recycling facilities. Instead they can only be handled at specialist centers, only three of which exist in the UK.

Unrecycled cups are part of the broader problem of plastic waste, which is known to accumulate in the environment and harm wildlife.

Under recent proposals made by the Environmental Audit Committee to government, the introduction of a ‘latte levy’ on top of the price of a drink could be used to raise money to improve the UK’s processing facilities for these cups.

Biodegradable coffee cups have been suggested as alternatives to the plastic-lined versions. However, they too require specialist facilities to deal with them correctly, and without these the majority will also end up on landfill.

“Generally for paper cups to be composted it requires an industrial process, and usually that isn’t something that comes out of high street bins. There isn’t segregation of the waste at that point,” said Stemman.

Biodegradable cups will break down faster than the plastic-lined paper cups, but this process will still take a long time without specialist facilities.

Stemman advocated increased investment in recycling facilities that can deal with plastic-lined coffee cups.

Compostable packaging is currently a minority when compare to conventional plastic packaging, but some in the industry have suggested that if the sector is developed it will be able to work with the waste sector to improve composting capabilities.

“Infrastructure in the UK is still in development, and I think it has come a long way but it still has a long way to go,” said Xanthe Galanis-Hancox from biodegradable packaging company Vegware.

However, she said there is still infrastructure available, noting that Vegware makes compostable cups and their company offers a composting collection service for businesses called Close the Loop.

“We have seen a big spike in interest since the latte levy announcement, as businesses realize that sustainability is no longer just a nice-to-have, but vital to please consumers,” said Eilidh Brunton, Vegware’s group recycling consultant.

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