According to Frugalpac, this raises serious question marks over the efforts of the coffee industry to combat waste.
"Even in London with initiatives such as the Square Mile Challenge, only 14% of coffee-savvy consumers use the specialist bins provided," said Martin Myerscough, founder of Frugalpac before adding: "The majority of paper cups are used on-the-go, away from the place of purchase. As a result, very few customers return their cups to these specialist bins. Even if a specialist bin is used, the cups still have to be thoroughly cleaned prior to being transported to a dedicated specialist recycling plant."
Myerscough went on to point out: "Worryingly, the research revealed 56% of Londoners (50% nationally) believe their coffee cups are being recycled all or most of the time. In reality, only one in 400 paper cups in the UK is actually recycled. Someone who drinks takeaway coffee three times a week, over the course of a year would not see a single one of their 156 paper cups recycled."
Frugal pac's founder warned there is "significant confusion among consumers about the recyclability of coffee cups and raises big questions about the effectiveness of existing recycling schemes".
"37% of London coffee drinkers dispose of their cups in paper and cardboard recycling bins, presumably assuming the takeaway cups will then be recycled. However, existing paper cups cannot be recycled in the same way as other paper and cardboard products so the cups put in these bins will end up in landfill," continued Myerscough.
The research is also reported to have found:
- 88% of people in London think it is the responsibility of coffee shops to stock recyclable paper cups (89% nationally)
- 93% of London respondents said they thought it was important to be able to dispose of takeaway paper cups within the current recycling system (i.e. current paper and cardboard recycling bins) (92% nationally)
- 60% of people list coffee cups being recycled as being an important consideration when they purchase their drink (60% nationally)
"Consumers are clear where they think improvements can be made. 88% of people (89% nationally) think that coffee shops should communicate more clearly what share of the hot drinks paper cups they serve can actually be recycled. Questions were also raised around how committed big brands are to reducing the environmental impact of their takeaway hot drinks cups," stated Myerscough.
The research reported:
- 54% of people in London thought Costa is committed (45% nationally)
- 53% of people in London thought Starbucks is committed (40% nationally)
- 50% of people in London thought Greggs is committed (40% nationally)
- 54% of people in London thought Caffe Nero is committed (39% nationally)
- 52% of people in London thought Pret a Manger is committed (36% nationally)
- 51% of people in London thought McCafe is committed (34% nationally)
- 45% of people in London thought Eat is committed (29% nationally)
"There are worrying signs that placing different types of recycling bins may well be exacerbating the problem," cautioned Frugalpac's Myerscough. "Consumers rightly assume that by placing their cup in one of these, 'they've done their bit'. This would be true if we changed the way that coffee cups were manufactured so that they could go in any recycling bin, something which consumers have said they would welcome. The simplest way of encouraging people and businesses to reduce their contribution to waste is to give them products which can be recycled easily.
"Equally, although retailers have made great progress in placing increased numbers of cup recycling bins inside and outside their stores - such as the square mile scheme, which in itself ignores the other 94,060 sq miles of the UK - yet without materially changing the product that is going into the bin, this will have little effect in the long term," added Myerscough.
Frugalpac warned the UK is facing a challenge of unprecedented scale: people are drinking more cups of coffee than ever before and outlets serving coffee are opening at breakneck speed. According to Local Data Company figures, between 2011 and 2016 there was a 31% increase in the number of coffee shops across the UK.
"At least 2.5 billion paper coffee cups are being thrown away in the UK every year. That’s almost 5,000 a minute, or 7 million per day. The vast majority of paper coffee cups go to general waste and landfill. This is because standard recycling plants are unable to separate the inner plastic lining within the cup from the paper. It is highly expensive for companies to send coffee cups to specialist recycling plants, meaning very few are," concluded Myerscough.
Frugalpac commissioned ICM Unlimited to interview 2,005 adults aged 18+ online between 31 March and 2 April 2017. Using Litmus, ICM’s Omnibus service – the data was weighted to be a nationally representative sample.