Stop! Your paper cups aren’t recyclable

It turns out that paper cups are not recyclable – who knew?!

So what has happened to all those coffee cups I have dutifully taken home, washed out and put in my recycling bin? Well, they have either been taken out and sent to landfill, or gone for incineration. What?!

Paper cups first came into use at the beginning of the twentieth century amidst health concerns over the previously used ‘public glass’, which would be used by many for drinking water. A single-use, disposable cup prevented the masses having to share a glass and share germs at the same time. Bravo I say.

However, solving one problem created another. How do we dispose of all of the paper cups?

In the UK alone we use and throw away 5,000 paper cups per minute. Staggering. Each and every minute.

That is seven million cups per day

And 2.5 billion cups per year

Yikes. I don’t even know how to imagine that many cups.

The biggest problem with recycling paper cups, is that they are not just made from paper. They are coated with Polyethylene (PE), a plastic in order to waterproof them. The seal is so tight that without specialised processing, it is not possible to separate the paper and plastic, and as yet, no councils have invested in the technology to do this.

Simply Cups is the only paper cup recovery and recycling service operating in the UK. They offer a collection and recycling service that any company or group can sign up to, but so far, not many have.

Only about six million paper cups are recycled each year in the UK – not even one day’s worth of production. Oh dear.

So what do we do?

There are a few ideas around that could go towards solving the problem;


Biodegradable cups are more common these days. Instead of the problematic PE lining, they have linings made from plant starch, making the cup completely biodegradable. Biodegradable cups becoming the norm would certainly help. The snag with these is ensuring they are deposited in food waste facilities.

I recently was excited to discover that POD coffee shops used only 100 per cent recyclable or biodegradable packaging. However they have been told that they don’t have the right bins to biodegrade them. (This isn’t necessarily POD’s fault but that’s a whole other blog post on recycling facilities I need to write.)


Simply Cups would need to grow enormously in popularity for this to become a reality. We can play our part by contacting the companies we buy our drinks from and asking them to sign up.


I have fully got in to the habit of taking my reusable coffee cup everywhere! Get hold of one and get into the rhythm of using it. Alternatively, treat yourself to a coffee ‘in’ where you will be served your coffee in a real cup. You’ll be far more relaxed and your coffee will taste way better. There are loads of great reusable options like these KeepCups.

Although I am more of an independent coffee shops type of person, I can’t help be pleased to hear that Starbucks currently have a two month trial (April and May 2016) of a 50p discount for anyone who brings a re-usable cup.


My challenge to you is to #WasteLessWednesday

From today on, could you stop using paper cups on a Wednesday? Each Wednesday, set a reminder in your phone to take your coffee cup out with you. If you forget to take it, just on a Wednesday, refuse to use a throwaway cup by either sitting in or simply going without.

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