The Square Mile Challenge is the UK's biggest ever coffee cup recycling scheme aiming to recycle half a million cups in April, and 5 million by the end of 2017. It is Hubbub's largest collaborative campaign to date involving the City of London Corporation, Network Rail, national coffee retailers, cup manufacturers and some of the biggest employers in London. What have been the key lessons from creating the Challenge?

1) A catalyst is needed

The industry was aware of the need to create a sustainable solution for disposing of coffee cups and was starting to act, but their efforts were hastened by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Hugh drove a bus covered with discarded coffee cups around London with a mega phone shouting that of the seven million coffee cups thrown away every day across the UK less than 1% are recycled.

2) Learn fast and cheap

Hubbub realised it was important to learn fast and cheap. We started by placing a lone coffee cup recycling bin in Manchester and watched what happened. Firstly the bin got broken into as people wanted the coupons giving them free coffee, then the bin handle proved too tempting for children to swing on. The bin was re-designed, different locations were tested and various promotional approaches tried.

Based on rapid experimentation, the #1MoreShot campaign in Manchester successfully collected 30,000 cups for recycling and provided the model for the bigger #SquareMileChallenge campaign in London.

3) A trusted intermediary is essential

Bringing together competitive retailers, major employers, the recycling industry, manufacturers and the local authority required an independent intermediary who everybody trusted. Hubbub fulfilled this role. As an environment charity we had a clear remit for being involved and our previous collaborative campaigns on littering and coffee cup recycling gave companies confidence that we would be able to bring the campaign to life.

4) All sectors need to be involved

Through the #SquareMileChallenge people are able to recycle any coffee cup at over 100 retail locations, through large bins in public places, at Liverpool Street station and at 34 companies. If coffee cups are littered the street cleaners have tubes on their carts enabling these cups to be recycled as well.

Creating this breadth of collection facilities involved collaboration across all sectors from the City of London through to the major high street retail chains. Building this collaboration has required a shared commitment and a desire to make it as easy as possible for people to do the right thing.


5) Co-creation is required

To be successful, consistent and clear messaging was required so that the public knew that they could recycle any coffee cup at the collection points no matter from where they bought them. With the involvement of such a wide variety of brands, creating this consistent message was complicated and required co-creation with the full involvement of all partner companies.

6) Independent evaluation builds trust

Hubbub is aware that there is public scepticism about what happens to things that are collected for recycling. To create transparency we have appointed an independent evaluation agency who will track the journey of the collected cups.  

Some of the cups will be transformed into new recycled plastic products that will be returned to the City of London for wider community benefit whilst other cups will be turned into cardboard packaging products. The role of the independent evaluator will be to provide verification of this recycling journey.

7) Replicability is essential

Ensuring this is not a greenwash campaign is essential for all concerned. The #SquareMileChallenge will put in place a recycling infrastructure in companies and retailers that will be there for the long-term.    

The lessons from the campaign will be captured by Hubbub and transformed into a replication guide that will be made freely available to other cities, communities and organisations, giving them step-by-step support for replicating the campaign in their localities.

The #SquareMileChallenge will be actively promoted for the month of April and we are intrigued to see whether we can encourage people to recycle coffee cups. We will keep you informed of developments and share results - good and bad!

Read more about the #SquareMileChallenge. If you have any environmental challenges in your business, organisation or community that needs a fresh approach, get in touch.