Is breaking the shackles of brand loyalty the true key to reducing the coffee cup mountain?
Buying a takeaway coffee is something we've probably all done, but for an impulse purchase, its impact is far-reaching. Britain’s thirst for coffee on the go means an estimated 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year; line those up and you could almost reach the moon.
Coffee shop chains have come under renewed fire for failing to reduce the huge amount of cardboard waste generated by unrecycled disposable coffee cups; the majority of disposable cups in circulation are made from cardboard with polyacetylene, which is great for holding liquid, but makes them incredibly hard to recycle.
As part of a recent initiative Costa Coffee and Starbucks have both launched in-store cup recycling schemes, partnering with waste management provider Veolia.
Costa is rolling out the recycling racks in all 2,000-plus stores at the end of January with a strong message that they "recycle any paper takeaway cup, no matter what brand".
This January, an initial 21 Starbucks stores in London will feature a cup bin, intended to help the emptying, stacking and collection of paper cups for effective recycling.
In both schemes, cups from any vendor can be directly disposed of into the store's waste collection and recycled by Veolia.
The question that is playing on our minds though is "will these recycling racks get used?". When you buy a takeaway coffee, you walk out and away from the coffee shop, so one could suggest that it may be slightly misguided to invest in this recycling system if customers are going to buy their coffee and deposit the cups in regular bins. Will consumers really take old empty cups back to the store to recycle?
It may be more practical to promote the incentives for bringing in your own coffee cup in attempt to reduce the amount of waste generated. Starbucks offers 25p discount for bringing your own cup and Costa donates 25p to charity every time someone brings their own cup. So why are we not all taking our own cups to a coffee shop?
Our packaging technology director Gillian Garside-Wight says: "There is still a stigma around asking for your coffee to be put in a branded container - especially when visiting a competitor chain. This embarrassment needs to be dispelled".
Also, are customers really aware of the discount or charity donation? "If all coffee was reduced by 25p and an additional 25p was added to every disposable cup used customers would very quick to convert to reusable cups and the awkwardness would be removed due to the effect on their wallet. This way we would see a definite decrease in the amount of disposable cups being used".
A great example of this working was when the Government introduced a 5p levy on plastic carrier bags in 2015 in an attempt to reduce the seven billion bags used by British consumers each year.
The change has been massively successful, with the number of bags used having fallen by 85% in less than a year. If the same applied to leading coffee chains, we might also see a dramatic fall in the amount of disposable cups that are going to landfill.