Trialling ways to increase coffee cup recycling in London

Coffee. It's the fuel of the nation. The UK throws away a whopping 3 billion coffee cups a year. Less than 4% of these cups are recycled, even if they have a green recycling sign and you put them in the recycling bin. The tricky issue is the mix of the plastic film on the inside of the cups which need special treatment to separate and recycle, plus the dregs of coffee which contaminate the recycling.

In April 2017 we launched the 'Square Mile Challenge' with the aim of collecting and recycling half a million coffee cups in April alone. The campaign was part of a record collaboration between many of the major coffee retailers, 35 businesses, the City of London and Network Rail at Liverpool Street Station.

To boost recycling, 7 giant yellow coffee-cup bins were positioned on streets across the City of London to collect cups for recycling and raise awareness of the campaign. This was boosted with more than 100 recycling points across the Square Mile including every branch of Costa, Marks & Spencer, McDonalds, Nespresso, Pret a Manger and Starbucks. 

These locations were accurate at the time of the campaign launch in April 2017, and some may now vary depending on the business and their involvement. 

The difference made

We’re delighted to say that we beat our ambition, collecting a total of 5 million coffee cups. Thank you to everyone who recycled their cup!

All coffee cups collected for the #SquareMileChallenge were recycled into something new in one of two ways. The first shreds the whole coffee cup, processing it into a resin which is mixed with recycled plastic to create a new mouldable plastic material. This can then be made into a range of products such as picnic benches, trays and coasters. The second involves separating the plastic lining and paper in the coffee cup, so the plastic can be removed and fibres can be recovered and made into products like cardboard containers.

What happens next?

Since the Square Mile Challenge we've replicated and scaled cup recycling to Leeds as part of the 'Leeds by Example' recycling on the go campaign. We've also created 'The Cup Fund', a £1 million grant in collaboration with Starbucks to scale cup recycling across the UK. 

Funders: Bunzl Catering Supplies, Caffè Nero, Costa, Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s, Nestlé, Pret A Manger, Starbucks and coffee cup manufacturers: Benders Paper Cups, Dart Products Europe, Huhtamaki and SEDA International Packaging Group.

Partners: City of London, Network Rail, Simply Cups.

Participating businesses: 110 Fetter Lane, 40 Holborn Viaduct, 70 Gracechurch Street, 70 Mark Lane, 99 Gresham Street, Aspen Insurance, AXA Investment Management, Baker McKenzie, Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, CBRE, Charles Russell Speechlys,City of London Corporation, Deloitte, Dentons , Eversheds Sutherland, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, GVA, Holman Fenwick Willan, ING Bank, Investec, JLL, Juxon House, Kings College London, Lloyd's, London, Metropolitan University, London Stock Exchange, M&G, Moor House, Prudential , Regis House, The Barbican Centre , The Broadgate Estate, The, Guildhall School of Music & Drama , The Leadenhall Building, The St Botolph Building, Vocalink.