Take it away

Royal Albert Hall by Colin via Wikimedia Commons

Close your eyes and picture the inside of the Royal Albert Hall … or look at a photo! It’s massive, isn’t it? In fact, 66m long, 56m wide and 41m high. Imagine it full to the ‘brim’ with single-use coffee cups. That is the total amount of annual coffee cup waste in the UK! A whopping 2.5bn coffee cups are produced in the UK every year. Very few are recycled. They are composed of a layer of plastic polyethylene sandwiched between paperboard.

Are you a takeaway coffee super fan? No takeaway cup is good for the environment. The cup might say ‘recyclable’ on it … but what that means is that the cardboard sleeve is recyclable (you have to peel it away from the cup), not the actual cup! If placed in the local council recycling, it can contaminate the whole batch.

It may say ‘biodegradable’ on it, but it doesn’t ever disappear completely; it breaks down into microplastics, whether the cup is made from conventional plastic or from bio plastic. It may say ‘compostable’ on it, but it has to have very specific conditions in which to do that.

On some of the cups, when it says ‘industrial/commercial compost facilities’, we can be forgiven for thinking that refers to our food waste bin, but not so. It refers to a specialist recycling facility, of which there is only a handful in the whole country! The local council food waste recycling system works at a different temperature and over a different period of time. A few cups may even say ‘home compostable’ on them. So beware greenwashing!

We have some choices:

  • return the empty cup to the shop where it was bought, for the proprietor to recycle into a new cup;
  • invest in your own re-usable glass or bamboo coffee mug or something like a Hydro Flask; keep it in the car and take it with you every morning or whenever you fancy a takeaway cuppa (there are lots around – birthday/Christmas present for your favourite coffee takeaway addict?);
  • just bin the empty takeaway cup;
  • wait till you get home or to the office for your drink; or
  • go and sit in a cafe?

Remember … single-use is no use. Our lovely planet deserves better.