It Doesn’t Do What It Says On The Cup

I wanted to do this article aside from it’s mention in the media recently, but actually due to a prompt realisation I had as I was sat in a meeting the other day, focusing on green initiatives.  It came to me at the very end. The meeting’s concluding question was one I was expecting ‘give me one thing you’ll do to help the environment this week.’ This line varies from time to time, sometimes ‘give’ is replaced by the less harsh imperative ‘say’. The usual answers came out first and I was thinking quite hard about my task, I wanted to be sure I could do it. I was jolted actually, when the girl next to me, who I knew was an hugely keen environmentalist, proposed bringing a thermal mug for her coffee. She grabbed her coat and duffel bag and went, without a sound. I don’t know why I was expecting more, her avidity towards environmental studies doesn’t mean she is unable to see the bigger picture. After I wondered why I was feeling as if there was some anti-climax, a misplaced suspense, I realised why it was ridiculous to expect more. A pressing issue and great concern is disposable ‘recyclable’ coffee cups, the misconception of their lifecycle and inevitable ending in landfill. No great invention or complicated task could have woken me up and made me smell the coffee more.

The familiar takeaway cup, the card or paper on the outside and the plastic-coated paper inside, on the surface it seems like a good model. Brands are able to display their logo on the exterior and the coffee is kept in by the waterproof inside, they also don’t hold back in advertising the cup can be recycled. And yes they’re technically right. Yet, while I was putting my disposable cups in the blue bin, it wasn’t until I read up online that I realised 1% at most of these cups got recycled and it’s because of the inside of the cup.

The waterproof lining in the coffee cup which holds the liquid inside, the plastic polyethylene, cannot be recycled at centres, with the exception of 3 facilities. Even in my research, I could not seem to find these 3 centres. With the UK coming in at 70 million cups of coffee per day, I wanted to see how much of this was takeaway and therefore unrecyclable material. I got my answer with roughly 1,400 cups a day purchased by the UK’s environment department.

Unfortunately, if one of these 1,400 cups a day ends up mixed in with other recyclables, it can contaminate the whole lot where it will eventually end up in landfill making it unsurprising that in the last five years, the MCS Beachwatch beach clean and survey programme has seen an increase of 93% in coffee cups found on UK beaches. The MSC says they welcome the recent proposal of a charge of 25p on disposable coffee cups, put forward by the Environmental Audit Committee. Even before this proposal, it seemed the idea was growing in popularity; a YouGov survey for MCS revealed that 74%, nearly three out of four people questioned across the UK, would support the charge on single use coffee cups.

My response to the meeting’s task was to join in taking a reusable coffee mug. I know I will be extending this to more than 1 week, considering the lifetime and eventuality of the disposable coffee cup and the prospect of adding to the current 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. When it comes to charges on coffee cups, it seems like a popular and achievable idea but until that day comes, it’s going to be me and my trusty Thermos.


Plastic Statistics

image from the image library on here

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Rosie Alice

Rosie Alice

Environmental writings and NGO volunteer
Rosie Alice

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