To recycle coffee cups, you need to collect them separately and collect enough of them for their recycling to be viable. To do this in practice requires the setup of a network that will connect the final consumer, to special recycling bins, to collectors, recyclers and, finally, users of the recycled materials.
Hubbub, the British environmental charity, set out to do just that with the launch of its “#SquareMileChallenge” on 1 April 2017. The pilot, which is now reaching the end of its second phase, targets consumers in the strategic “Square Mile” at the heart of London, an area with a high concentration of on-the-go coffee drinkers.
Seven of the major coffee retailers have taken part, providing 131 recycling points in coffee shops across the Square Mile and allowing consumers to recycle their cups in any of the stores, regardless of where it was initially purchased. Hubbub also enlisted 36 major employers, such as Lloyd’s, Deloitte and ING Bank, to install a minimum of 5 recycling bins within each of their offices.
The headline objective of collecting 500,000 cups in April and 5 million cups by the end of 2017 was high enough to attract the recycler Simply Cups to run the collection and recycling part of the operation and, hopefully, would also create the momentum to lead a long-term shift in consumer behaviour.
Collection from offices contributed the most to the #SquareMileChallenge so far, but there is a lot of potential from high-street coffee shops as well. Cups collection in the streets was the least effective. Survey results indicate most consumers would be willing to take their cups to recycling points in coffee shops or at their office, if provided.
The initiative has been supported by a wide coalition of enablers including major coffee cup manufacturers Benders Paper Cups, Dart Products Europe, Huhtamaki and SEDA International Packaging Group. These companies are also behind the UK initiative to collect and recycle cups through the UK’s network of bring banks.
The future of recycling depends on the networks we can scale. Are you connected yet?