Is recycling cups the real answer?

The focus on reuse and recycling is more in the public eye now that it has ever been with the public response to David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 documentary and the associated focus on single use plastics. This has led to many schemes by businesses such as the banning of plastic straws and the introduction of reverse vending machines. These schemes are to be applauded and encouraged but more needs to be done to deal with the problem of our throwaway society, which is where most of these single use items emanate from.


The rise in cup recycling schemes is an example of how the waste management industry has moved in line with public pressure and businesses requirements to be perceived as acting on this increase in public awareness.


We know that the best option is to reduce waste in the first place, recycle is the third step down the waste hierarchy. So, alongside advertising cup recycling schemes, there should be a more prominent push on reusable cups which sit at the 2nd step of the hierarchy (reuse). It seems to me that reusable cups have been available in the major coffee outlets for years but not enough has been done to promote their use. Ultimately, recycling cups does not fix the problem, as there is still waste that has to be collected and processed. This costs businesses, and society, more to deal with than re-using cups. We should be focusing on reducing the amount of disposable cups being produced for one, single use.


One perspective on recycling disposable coffee cups which has not seen the spotlight is the amount of additional trucks on the roads dedicated to collecting segregated cups and transporting them across the country to their recycling point. The amount of labour put into trying to find an eco-friendly solution for non-recyclable product leads me to question if the carbon impact of this whole operation is better than the same cups being transported a short distance to a local Energy from Waste facility. I’d be fascinated to see the findings of a whole carbon impact study comparing these two disposal routes!


This topic provides a good insight into how ACM look at things differently. We are focused on working with our customers to supply reusable cups to their workforces. Last month we took delivery of the first of them for two of our key clients. Their staff are given a reusable cup each to use and disposable cups will be removed from their sites wherever possible. This attempts to solve the problem at the earliest stage of the hierarchy.


Alongside this, we are working with customers to reduce amounts of single use, non-recyclable packaging that clients may be receiving this material from their supply chain. ACM also look at other areas where supply chain processes can be amended to allow a reduction in waste or at least an improvement in the potential for onward recycling of products. This shows that we are focused both on not recycling waste but mainly reducing it. It is by doing this that we make the biggest influence the health of our world and bit by bit undo some of the scars we have left this world of ours with.

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