With busy schedules we're eating and drinking more and more whilst on the move. Last year alone we spent a whopping £17.4 billion on food and drink to eat on the go in the UK. It stacks up to about 13 billion plastic bottles, 9 billion drinks and 2.5 billion coffee cups every year!

That's a whole lot of packaging, and less than half of local authorities have the street infrastructure to collect and recycle it. This is often because the quality of what's collected on the street is so poor that the costs don't stack up to collect it; either we put the wrong materials in the bin meaning the whole lot goes to waste, or it still has food or liquid in it.

A new approach is needed and Leeds is up for giving it a go! Between October - March 2019, the city will be trialling new ways to make recycling consistent and easy to do. The city will #LeedsByExample (ah-haa) by recycling empty plastic, cans and coffee cups.

How to recycle on the go in Leeds

  1. Keep hold of your plastic, cans and coffee cups and make sure they're empty. Leftover food and liquid could make a whole batch go to waste.
  2. Find a recycling bin at a yellow pin. There are over 30 in Leeds City Centre, you’re never more than 5 minutes away! Empty coffee cups can be recycled in any Caffè Nero, Costa, McDonald's, Pret and Starbucks or in one of 10 new bright orange bins.
  3. Follow the signs and only recycle items they ask for. If in doubt, leave it out.  

For now, please leave out crisp packets, sandwich wraps, coffee cup lids, cardboard food containers and polystyrene trays - these can't be recycled.

Find your nearest recycling bin:

What's on in Leeds

Get rewards for recycling 

Recycle reward machines are common around parts of Europe and can help improve the quality of our recycling. Now they're coming to Leeds to give you a chance to make some money from your used empty plastic bottles, cans and coffee cups! You can find a plastic bottle and can machine at Beckett University, Kirkgate market, Trinity Kitchen and Shell Regent garage. There’s also a coffee cup machine at Beckett University. More locations will be announced here soon.

A h(app)y recycling tool

Download the new 'We Recycle app' to scan some food and drink packaging and find out 1) whether it can be recycled and 2) where your nearest bin in Leeds is. Litter-ally all your dreams have come true, haven't they.

Re-cycler cargo bikes and bubble bins 

The Re-Cycler cargo bike will be popping up around Leeds to swap your empty plastic and cans for sweet treats! There will also be two Bubble Bins spurting bubbles in exchange for plastic bottles and cans. If you’d like a visit from either, email [email protected] 

New seating area made from 100% recycled plastic

Pop to Dortmund Square where there's brand new benches for you to sit and enjoy your food and drink on the go. It may look like wood but do not be deceived, it’s made from recycled plastic bottles! Plastic bottles have been collected, processed into planks, and then transformed by local designers into comfortable seating.


To compare recycling in a city centre with a more residential place, we’ve also installed 4 empty plastic and can bins in Seacroft in East Leeds. Pop along to see them in place at the Tesco site, black shops and Ramshead Hill and watch this space for more events.

A Giant Cuppa - Trinity Leeds

Trinity Leeds shopping centre has introduced a giant coffee cup installation, made of 600 coffee cups; can you believe that’s how many Leeds gets through every 10 minutes?! Look out for the new orange coffee cup recycling bins also in Trinity Leeds. Cups can be recycled, but need their own bins. These will be taken to a paper mill in Cumbria, where they’re recycled and turned into high quality paper products.

Results so far

The latest monitoring of the yellow plastic and can recycling bins in Leeds shows that we're getting 71% of the target material. This means the remaining 29% is things we don’t want such as food and drink or coffee cups. The 71% is of a good enough quality to be recycled (and will be recycled in the UK), but we’ve set a target of 75% to see if we can recycle even more and improve the quality further.

Over 8% of the recycle bin content is coffee cups (down from 11%). Coffee cups can be recycled but need their own bins, which is why we’ve introduced 5 (ever so smiley) orange coffee cup bins on the street too and will be monitoring to see if this helps. In the first few weeks, these collected over 20,000 cups for recycling.

The network of 5 recycle reward machines have collected over 10,000 items for recycling.

Find out more about what we’ve learnt so far in our latest blog.

Not in Leeds? Here's what you can do

  1. Consider switching to reusable cups and bottles. Get started with this guide on switching to reusable cups
  2. If you do have packaging - check what you can recycle where you live and work by entering your postcode here.
  3. Make sure your recycling is clean - wrong items, or leftover food and liquid could make a whole batch go to waste.
  4. Recycle your coffee cups at any Costa, McDonald’s and Starbucks store.

If you're a business in Leeds, head over here to find out more about getting involved.

#LeedsByExample is funded by Alupro, Asda, Association of Convenience Stores, Ball Beverage Packaging Europe, British Plastics Federation, Bunzl, Caffè Nero, Coca-Cola GB, Costa Coffee, Co-op, Crown Packaging, Danone, Ecosurety, Greggs, Highland Spring, Innocent, Klöckner Pentaplast (kp), Lucozade Ribena Suntory, Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s, Morrisons, PepsiCo, Pret, Starbucks and Shell.

Affiliate partners are: Cromwell Polythene, RECOUP and WRAP. Local partners are: Forge Recycling, HW Martin, Leeds City Council and Zero Waste Leeds.