“The problem with coffee cup recycling is at the beginning, not at the end.”

Collaborative action is urgently needed for solutions that address the issue of recycling the UK’s discarded paper cups

Comment from Peter Goodwin, Co-Founder of Simply Cups:

“Whilst paper cup recycling has become very topical in the last few days, Simply Cups has been working collaboratively across the supply chain for almost two years to find a transparent and sustainable long term solution to the issue that less than one per cent of the UK’s discarded paper cups are being recycled.

What is now apparent, following on from the debate of the last couple of days, is that the application of the recycling symbol on a product (from whatever industry) bears no guarantee that a product – whilst recyclable – is actually going to be recycled.  At best, we believe that this may undermine confidence and create scepticism in what brands are trying to communicate to their consumers and, at worst, render the recycling logo completely worthless.

Simply Cups, however, believes that consumers are not being deliberately misled about why their used cups and cartons end up on a rubbish heap rather than made into second-life materials. Indeed, the lack of effective recycling will have surprised many brands and companies in the supply chain, who have historically passed the problem back down the line, without necessarily asking what really is happening to their waste.

Whilst the waste industry is often criticised for its inability to provide solutions for every waste stream, it should not be its responsibility alone to solve the problem, nor is it acceptable to lay the blame wholly at their door.

Product stewardship means that it is the responsibility of everyone in the supply chain – producers, users and brands – to ensure that the waste industry has the ability to extract the economic value it needs to ensure a commercially viable solution. It is now evident that brands can no longer use the recycling symbol as a defence mechanism to absolve responsibility but, instead, they should be engaging and collaborating with others in the supply chain in order to come up with workable solutions to tackle material segregation, collection and reprocessing.

But, by the same token, this can only happen if the waste industry adopts a similar approach to engagement, ensuring that we have full collaboration across the entire product life cycle.

The hardest part of recycling is not the logistics to collect the material, nor the technology to needed to perform the task but, rather, how to extract the value from waste once it has been (almost inevitably) contaminated. This is why Simply Cups works so hard with its customers to help them segregate the material at source; ensuring that it retains its value and continually making it commercially viable to recover and recycle.

Simply Cups became a viable proposition with the emergence of two paper cup recycling facilities in the UK, each with the capability to separate the plastic lining from fibre. Nevertheless, the cups still need to be provided to these plants in an appropriate form and free from contamination.

Simply Cups has been actively promoting its cup recycling solution for almost two years and the publicity it has generated, together with the recent  ‘war on waste’ activity, means there is now no excuse for anyone not to be aware of the problem.

The real question that needs to be asked is just how committed is everyone is to dealing with this issue and is there sufficient consumer demand to disrupt the status quo? Viable solutions are already available and so we would urge producers, users and brands to engage with us as soon as possible and take positive action.

Simply Cups has set a target of recycling six million cups by end of 2016. This is tiny in comparison to the total number of cups in circulation and the ambitions must, therefore, reach much higher.”

A copy of the Simply Cups 2015 Annual Report can be viewed and downloaded here.