The take away coffee market is a huge and lucrative market, but coffee cup waste is a huge problem.  Starbucks reported record profits this year with an operating income of £3.4bn.  Last month they announced that they intend to double the number of stores they have in China by 2021 to 5,000.  They opened 690 stores in the last 3 months!  Here in the UK Costa Coffee also announced an increase in profits of 3.4% to £263 million for the first 6 months of 2016.  So it’s not as if they are short of a bit of cash to sort out the slight environmental problem they are implicit in.

Coffee cup lidThe take away coffee cup, and accompanying lids, are causing a massive environmental issue because they are not easily recycled.  In an effort to highlight their ‘green’ credentials, Starbucks clearly state that their products are made from recycled materials and are recyclable.  However, while the paper in the cup can be recycled, it can’t because of the thin layer of plastic on the inside that stops your favourite latte from pouring all over the floor.  On their website they harp on about reduce, reuse and recycle, but that is not a lot of use when the consumer takes the cup away – which I guess is the whole point of a take-away!  The fact is that while there are processes that can strip the plastic layer from the paper, these are few and far between and I assume that the coffee stores don’t see it as an economically viable option

In March this year Starbucks announced that they would be giving a 50p discount to customers who brought in their own reusable cups.  This met with a couple of problems.  Firstly, the staff in Starbucks continued to use paper cups in order to ensure that measures were accurate so the waste mountain continued to grow and secondly by November they had reduced the discount to 25p and had stopped telling consumers it was an option.  Back to square one.

Nescafe, that powerhouse of instant coffee, produced a take away cup that you could use at home.  That cup and plastic lid were also non-recyclable and when asked the company merely stated that they were concerned about the environment and were looking into it.  At 50p for a spoon of instant coffee and a non-recyclable plastic cup this product is probably not the best consumer purchase you could make – what’s wrong with taking a reusable cup when you leave the house?

Only last week the Daily Mail was celebrating a ‘campaign victory’ as Costa Coffee decided to provide coffee cup recycling bins in 2000 of their stores, a move that could potentially remove 30 million coffee cups from landfill.  Starbucks planned to do something similar.  Unfortunately, it is not working.  The Times today reported that only 14% of the takeaway cups they had issued had been returned.  Now I actually think that is a good thing and they should persevere.  14% of 30 million is a lot of waste, but also a huge potential resource.  However, I am not convinced they are on the right tack.  They are, after all ‘takeaway’ cups.  Its all in the name.  People buy them in order to go somewhere else, otherwise, I assume, they would sit in the store and drink their coffee while enjoying a nice danish pastry and having a chat with friends – can you remember when people used to do that!

I am pleased that these Coffee outlets are at last taking responsibility for the huge amount of waste that these disposable cups are generating and I think they should continue to promote recycling schemes and fund the recycling of those products.  However, it is never going to be the complete answer.  We need a sustainable and working solution and I cannot believe that it is beyond capabilities of the geniuses behind these enormous companies to work it out.  You are making the money, now spend some of it on some solid R&D and get this problem sorted out.