This summer the celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall launched a highly publicised campaign announcing that 99% of the 2.5 billion coffee cups used in the UK each year are either dumped or burnt, with less than 1% being recycled even when put in the recycling bin. The spotlight was turned on the high street retailers who were accused of misleading the public with 'green wash'. Branding their cups as recyclable, when in fact that was not the case.
The construction of the cups makes them hard to recycle with a mixture of plastic coatings and paper being difficult and costly to separate. The industry faced a problem and needed a viable solution - how would they respond?
Their first realisation was that a collaborative approach was essential. For the first time all of the major high street coffee retailers (with the exception of Starbucks) set aside competitive differences agreeing to jointly explore and fund a solution.
Secondly they had to find a new and cost-effective way of recycling the cups. The answer was provided by an innovative design company based in the depths of Cornwall called A Short Walk. Rather than trying to separate the plastic coating from the paper, the designers realised that the inherent strength of the cups could be an asset. By shredding the cups into pellets and adding a newly designed resin they created a way for the cups to be recycled into a range of useful new products from garden furniture through to re-useable coffee cups.
The third conundrum was how to separate the coffee cups from the waste stream and source a sufficient number for the recycling process to be viable. Partnering with Manchester City Council and the charity Hubbub, a series of recycling bins have been quietly tested on the streets of Manchester.
On Wednesday 12th October, a pioneering social experiment called #1MoreShot will be launched putting in place the UK's first high street coffee cup recycling scheme. During the months leading up to Christmas residents of Manchester will be challenged to recycle 20,000 coffee cups in 11 new giant coffee cup recycling bins that will be placed along one of the city's busiest streets, Oxford Road.
The collected cups will be recycled into 15,000 garden products such as flower pot holders which will be donated to the local charity Groundwork who will use them to further green Greater Manchester. Local residents will be able to directly see how their recycling efforts are benefitting the community.
It will be intriguing to see how the experiment works. A number of questions need to be answered. Will people use the recycling bins for just coffee cups or will there be too much other rubbish dumped into the bins making it impossible to recycle the cups? How many cups will be collected and will it be cost effective to recycle them? Will the products made be of real use to the community and fit for purpose? Can the scheme be financed in the long-term?
If the experiment is a success a number of local authorities have put their names forward to expand the scheme. If this happens then #1MoreShot in Manchester will have been the catalyst for a new way to recycle coffee cups giving the industry a valid answer to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's War on Waste challenge.
Just imagine how many garden products could be made to green our cities if we were able to recycle the 2.5 billion cups that are currently going to waste.