The billions of takeaway cups discarded by British coffee drinkers every year will each take up to 30 years to decompose, according to experts.
Scientists warned that almost none of the 5 billion paper cups thrown away annually are recycled, and are instead set to sit in landfill for decades.
The plastic lining which makes the cups impermeable can’t be removed at recycling centres, meaning the bulk of the cup isn’t recycled.
Chris Cheeseman, professor of materials resources engineering at Imperial College, told the Guardian the plastic could take 30 years to degrade:
“Even then we don’t know for sure, because nobody has looked at the cup specifically.”
But the paper, which takes two years to start breaking down even when the plastic is extracted, could have an even greater toll on the environment.
Cheeseman added: “In terms of environmental impact the cellulose fibre is potentially more of an issue than the plastic.”
“This could take 18 months to two years to start to break down and then it produces methane gas which is probably not collected.”
Due to health and safety laws, the cups cannot be made from recycled paper.
Some coffee shops have started incentivising reusable cups. Starbucks offers a 50p discount to customers who bring their own cups.
Pret’s staff are allowed to provide free coffees if they are impressed that customers has brought their own cup into the shop.
Inspired by the charge on plastic bags, the Liberal Democrats called for a 5p tax on coffee cups last week.
Since the plastic bag tax was enforced earlier this year, the use of bags has fallen dramatically.
Shoppers in England are set to take home six billion fewer single-use bags this year as a result of the tax.