Waste sector backs Costa’s coffee cup recycling plan

Coffee cup recycling took a step forward today with Costa Coffee, part of Whitbread, committing itself to recycling the same volume of cups it puts onto the market.

In a form of self-imposed producer responsibility, the company said that this would help to tackle the challenge of coffee cup recycling and stop the cups ending up in landfill.

Pledging to recycle up to 500 million coffee cups a year by 2020, the equivalent of its entire yearly sales of takeaway cups and a fifth of the 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups consumed as a nation each year, the company highlighted its involvement with paper mills and its plans to work with the waste and recycling sector.

Costa shop
Costa is introducing its own ‘producer responsibility measure’ to encourage coffee cup recycling

Costa’s actions and investment come several month’s ahead of the government’s Waste and Resource Strategy which is expected to place more pressure on retailers and other producers to pay more towards the cost of recycling.


The cups are likely to go to the James Cropper mill in Cumbria,  DS Smith at Kemsley in Kent and the Sonoco Alcore mill near Halifax. Costa is to pay a fee of £70 to the waste management companies for collection of the material. And, it noted that this will give the cups a value of £120 to the companies when a £50 payment per tonne is added from the mills. The price is higher than current mixed paper prices and lower than cardboard.

Waste management companies named by Costa as being involved with the project to recycle the cups include: Biffa, Grundon, Suez, First Mile and Veolia.


Dominic Paul, managing director of Costa, said: “Costa is putting its money where its mouth is to find an immediate solution to increasing the volume of takeaway coffee cups being recycled in the UK. It also dispels the myth that coffee cups can’t be recycled!”

“Following today’s announcement up to 100 million cups will be recycled this year alone and if the nation’s other coffee chains sign up, there is no reason why all takeaway cups could not be recycled by as early as 2020.

Commenting on today’s announcement environment minister Thérèse Coffey, congratulated Costa “on taking this significant step”. She added: “We want to help companies become plastic free and through our 25 Year Environment Plan we are putting in place the ambitions to encourage all of us to play our part in ending the scourge of plastic waste in our natural environment.”

Daren King, sales director at Biffa, said the company was delighted to support Costa adding “This new initiative fits well with Biffa’s unparalleled collection capability across the UK.”

Costa coffee cups for recycling


Bradley Smith, Grundon’s sales and marketing director said the company had been working with the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group for a number of years, running trials to find the most sustainable outlets for the recycling of paper cups. He added: “Costa are helping to create the right conditions where paper cups can become a valuable recycled material. This provides increased stability and confidence in the market.”

Support for the project also came from David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, who emphasises the company’s support for Extended Producers Responsibility. Mr Palmer-Jones said: “we truly believe that producer-contribution schemes have the potential to transform the long-term sustainability outlook for the UK – moving us all closer to achieving a circular economy, where materials are used and re-used over and over again.

“We applaud Costa for leading the charge to help tackle the challenges associated with recycling coffee cups, and we hope that this financial incentive helps Costa to meet its ambition of recycling 500 million cups a year by 2020 – while also perhaps encouraging others in this market to follow suit and take similar action.”


London-based First Mile’s chief executive, Bruce Bratley, said: “First Mile believes in a world where you should be able to recycle everything. Servicing over 20,000 London businesses including hundreds of coffee shops in the capital, we’ve seen first-hand the growing demand to provide responsible solutions for these more complex products and have recently responded with a coffee cup sack to help businesses recycle more.”

For Veolia UK, chief operating officer Gavin Graveson, said: “We dedicate ourselves to supporting customers like Costa reach their sustainable and environmental goals and welcome their commitment to invest in recycling. Funding towards greater collection capability is a step in the right direction.

“We all have our part to play and there is plenty more to do, with millions of disposable cups still not entering recycling streams. If more packaging was made easily recyclable and contamination minimalised we would be able to reuse even more material.”


On the reprocessors side the Costa announcement won a warm welcome from Mandy Kelly, senior recycling manager at drinks carton trade association ACE UK said: “ACE UK’s own bring bank network, which collects food and drink cartons for recycling at our specialist facility, has been accepting paper cups since the start of this year and we see this as a further opportunity to receive and reprocess collected paper cups from other suppliers.

“This initiative by Costa will mean many more new collection opportunities, through its support for waste contractors, dramatically driving up the volume of cups recycled.”

The DS Smith number six paper machine at its Kemsley mill which is set to have paper cups as part of its feedstock

Feasibility study

DS Smith Recycling also endorsed the announcement.  Peter Clayson, general manager for business development, said: “Our recent feasibility study, run in close collaboration with Costa, proved the recyclability of coffee cups through our traditional paper pulping processes.

“As the operator of the UK’s leading recycled paper mill, we have the technology and capacity to recycle up to the 2.5bn coffee cups thrown away every year.

“To do so, however, requires close collaboration across the supply chain to ensure that coffee cups are disposed of and collected correctly. We believe legislative action and government-driven funding is essential to eradicate coffee cups from landfill, but voluntary initiatives – such as this announcement from Costa – play an important role in recycling all coffee cups by 2020, and demonstrating how future recycling mechanisms can be funded. We look forward to continuing our work with Costa to make these solutions a reality right now.”

Phil Wild, James Cropper chief executive, said: “Seeing the high-quality material available in coffee cups go to waste on such a huge scale is what led us to develop our CupCycling technology. We established supply networks with coffee houses, waste management companies and brands to bring this waste stream back into value chains.

“By extracting the paper fibre from used coffee cups, not only can we make a wide range of paper products, but our latest innovation, COLOURFORM goes a step further by turning it into high quality plastic-free packaging too.”

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