One of the biggest issues facing the coffee industry is dealing with the huge amounts of waste created by coffee cups.

An estimated 2.5bn disposable coffee cups are used in the UK every year. Yet fewer than one in 400 is recycled.

This is because those disposable cups are very difficult to recycle. When you buy a coffee from one of the UK’s 40,000 coffee shops, the cup it comes in has a polyethylene coating. This makes the cup waterproof, but also difficult to recycle as it can’t be easily separated.


One UK-based firm has found the solution to this problem. James Cropper, which develops custom-made paper products for luxury brands, has created the world’s first coffee cup recycling scheme.

Named CupCycling, the firm possesses the technology at its newest recycling facility to separate the two components of coffee cups.

At its Lake District-based facility, the paper fibre in coffee cups is rescued and turned into luxury papers. Then, the polyethylene coating is recycled into products such as plastic tubing and cable wraps.

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By GlobalData

James Cropper has managed to recycle 6m used cups under its CupCycling brand.

Here’s how it works

In addition, it recently teamed up with the luxury department store Selfridges to put its technology to the test. Selfridges is now upcycling the disposable coffee cups generated at its Oxford Street store and using the recycled materials to create its famous yellow shopping bags.

One large Selfridges’ bag contains the equivalent of one 8oz cup, in a completely closed-loop recycling solution.

Chris Brant, director of retail projects at Selfridges, said:

We’re proud to be the first retailer to upcycle our cups in this way. Our customers are becoming ever more aware of global waste issues and I think they will appreciate the story behind the bag.

Why did James Cropper partner with Selfridges?

As well as being home to luxury brands and products, Selfridges is gaining a reputation for its focus on the environment.

In 2016, it won the inaugural award for World’s Best Sustainability Campaign at the IDGS world summit (Intercontinental Group of Department Stores). This was for its Buying Better Inspiring Change campaign which aims to make the business more efficient and environmentally friendly.

In addition, Selfridges recently partnered with the Zoological Society of London for a Project Ocean campaign. This saw the store remove plastic yellow carrier bags and microbeads from its beauty hall. These tiny pieces of plastic contribute to the 8m tonnes of plastic that enters the oceans every year, and the UK government has proposed to ban the use of them in products.

What else can be done about disposable coffee cups?

British high-street chain Costa lets customers drop off their used coffee cups at any of their 2,000 outlets in order to be recycled as a way to close the cycle.

As well, it offers customers that bring reusable coffee cups a 25p discount. Other brands such as Starbucks and Pret a Manger offer similar schemes too.