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Innovative coffee cup recycling experiment hits Manchester

A three-month industry project to collect difficult-to-treat paper cups on the high street and recycle them into new products has begun in Manchester.

A three-month industry project to collect difficult-to-treat paper cups on the high street and recycle them into new products has begun in Manchester.

The #1MoreShot social experiment aims to collect 20,000 paper coffee cups in special temporary bins in Manchester city centre and recycle them into 13,000 garden products such as plastic flower pot holders. 

The project is being led by environmental charity Hubbub, alongside a range of partners including Manchester City Council, Caffè Nero, Costa, McDonald’s, Nestlé, Greggs, KFC, Pret and Waitrose. 

War on Waste

Despite claims from coffee retailers that conventional paper cups are recyclable, the national War on Waste campaign, led by environmentalist and TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, has revealed that less than one per cent are actually recycled in practice.

The mixture of polyethylene coatings and paper used in coffee cups is difficult for recyclers to separate, meaning that most are burnt or go to landfill.

Around 272,000 disposable paper cups are used daily in Manchester, causing a significant amount of landfill waste.

Solution

The innovative recycling process being used in the experiment is being led by plastic recycling consultancy, Nextek, and sustainable product designers, ashortwalk. 

Rather than trying to separate the plastic coating from the paper, the cups will be shredded into pellets and combined with a resin to create a unique polymer for new products.

Gavin Ellis, co-founder of Hubbub, said: “This new initiative will test an innovative new technology and discover whether the public will separate out their coffee cups if specialist bins are provided.

“We urgently need to change the way we dispose of the 2.5 billion paper cups that are thrown away every year, as only 1 in 400 cups are being recycled. It this is successful, it can be extended to other cities across the UK.”

Dan Dicker, founder of ashortwalk, added: “Together with polymer experts Nextek we have spent years developing this technology, and we now hope that councils across the UK will adopt this technique as an answer to paper cup waste.

“Making new products from the collected cups drives demand and allows us all to see what actually happens to our cup once we place it in the bin.”

Producer responsibility

In separate news, the waste industry is calling for producers to take more responsibility for their products at end-of-life through extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes. 

The paper from the Environmental Services Association (ESA) calls on the government to introduce a new EPR levy scheme for manufacturers of frequently littered items.