Scientists have warned that almost none of the five billion paper cups thrown away are recycled, and that the ones that don’t will take up the 30 years to decompose.
Although the majority of a cup may be recycled, the plastic lining that makes the cups leak proof can’t be removed at conventional recycling centres.
Speaking to The Guardian, Chris Cheeseman, professor of materials resources engineering at Imperial College said that even with the plastic removed, it would take between 18 months and two years to break down because of the high quality paper used.
He said that, “in terms of environmental impact the cellulose fibre is potentially more of an issue than the plastic” and that, “it produces methane gas which is probably not collected.”
Due to health and safety reasons, disposable coffee cups must be made from virgin paper and it is thought that it takes 100,000 trees a year to make the five billion cups used in coffee shops around the country.
Since the issue has been brought to the public’s attention, various coffee chains have started implementing sustainability guidelines and incentives to reduce the amount of cups used.
Starbucks offers a 50p discount to every customer that brings in their own reusable cup and Pret allows staff members to offer free coffee if they are impressed by customers that use their own cups.
The liberal democrats have also put forward their concern by calling for the introduction of a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups to cut usage.
Hoping to build on the 5p plastic bag charge, which the party introduced during its coalition government with the conservative party, the party looks to increase the amount of cups recycled – a figure that currently stands at one in 40.
Tim Farron MP, Liberal Democrat Leader, said, “I want to see a culture shift towards bringing your own cup for a refill, rather than buying cups which are often non-recyclable and then throwing them away.”
Katie Parminter, Liberal Democrat Environmental Spokesperson said that, “most people purchase a tea or coffee and throw away the cup without even thinking about it, but a charge would increase our awareness of the environmental impact.”
Earlier on in the year Commercial Waste Magazine reported on the Frugalpac cup, invented by British entrepreneur Martin Myscough, who invented a disposable cup that could easily separate itself from its unrecyclable components.
The company has since had enquiries from coffee shops around the world and has opened formal offices in Brightwell, Suffolk, which were opened by environmental minister, Thérèse Coffey.
If you want to know more about biodegradable coffee cups, check out this article discussing the five best biodegradable K cups!