2 September 2019 by Will Date

DS Smith launches business coffee cup recycling scheme

Packaging manufacturer and recycler DS Smith has launched a scheme to collect and recycle single-use coffee cups from UK businesses through a chargeable service.

The scheme is a direct partnership with Royal Mail and will see DS Smith provide coffee cup collection boxes to participating commercial premises such as large offices.

DS Smith has launched its Coffee Cup Drop Box scheme

Coffee Cup Drop Boxes will be provided at £15 per use, and will have the capacity to hold up to 700 single use cups, intended at providing a source segregation option to businesses.

Once a box is full the boxes can be shipped via Royal Mail to DS Smith’s paper mill at Kemsley where they can be reprocessed into new fibre packaging products. The cost of shipping and processing is included in the initial price paid by the user.

Trials of the initiative have been carried out in conjunction with the accountancy firm Ernst & Young and Associated Vending Services, which DS Smith says have demonstrated the viability of the scheme.

Closed loop

Commenting on the project, Jochen Behr, head of recycling at DS Smith described the process as a ‘closed loop solution’ for coffee cup disposal and recycling, with the paper element of the cups being recycled to create new packaging products. The Coffee Cup Drop Boxes themselves are also made with recycled cardboard.

Mr Behr said: “There are 2.5 million businesses around the UK and we wanted a solution that allows us to collect from all these businesses. The reason why we think that this is a big step forward is because this is a simple solution.

“We think this can be a significant puzzle piece in how you recycle coffee cups in the UK.”

“We think this can be a significant puzzle piece in how you recycle coffee cups in the UK.”

Jochen Behr, DS Smith

However, he noted that challenges in the scheme include ensuring that the boxes remain hygienic and free of contaminants. If they are free of contaminants, the full boxes can be recycled whole as part of the pulping process.

“We need to make sure people are not using it as a garbage bin. We need to make sure we get the fibre and there is nothing else in there. If the contamination is too high, we can’t use it in our process and we have to either incinerate or landfill it.

“We have a couple of checks along the process, when it is posted via Royal Mail, they will check it is suitable for being shipped, then when it arrives at our recycling site we look at it. It all depends on the level of contamination and we all have to do our piece to make sure it is as clean as possible.”


Recycling of coffee cups has become an area of increasing focus in recent years with coffee chains coming under pressure from consumers and politicians to provide a recycling solution for the material. However, measures including a tax on single-use coffee cups, to fund a shift towards reusable alternatives, have been rejected.

Single use cups are difficult to recycle as, although they are largely made of paper, they also contain a plastic lining which is a contaminant in the paper making process. Collection is also a challenge, as it requires the cups to be separated from other recyclable materials and to be largely free of food and drink residues.

Recycling of single use coffee cups has become an increasing area of focus in recent years

DS Smith is among those to handle the material, processing coffee cups at its 900,000 tonnes per-year capacity paper mill in Kent, with as much as 30,000 tonnes of cups able to enter the paper making process.

The paper portion of the cups is used for the production of cardboard, while the plastic liner is recovered from the pulping process and is used as a fuel for energy from waste (see letsrecycle.com story).

Mr Behr added: “The fibre itself is actually quite good because it is usually made out of virgin fibre which helps in our process. If you have more virgin material the fibre is a little bit longer, and recycled fibre is a little bit shorter, so you want to have a good mix in your process.”


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