Millions of disposable coffee cups will be recycled rather than sent to landfill sites or incinerators under a service being launched nationally next week.
Employers will be encouraged to install dedicated bins in workplaces so that cups can be sent to specialist centres.
It emerged last year that only one in 400 coffee cups was recycled because normal recycling plants cannot separate the cup from the inner plastic lining. About 7 million paper coffee cups are used in Britain each day, or 2.5 billion a year.
Veolia, a waste company working with Costa and Starbucks, will launch the recycling service on Monday. It will cost an extra 1p to 2p per cup, Veolia said. The company is also launching a post-back scheme under which any organisation can buy a postage-paid box for £9.50, with space for up to 1,000 cups. The cups will be sent to specialist recycling centres in Sheffield and Cumbria or to one being built in Leeds. Veolia will also rent out dedicated recycling bins for 50p a day.
The recycling service will be able to cope with a small amount of contamination but if more than one in 20 cups contains a teabag or other waste it could result in whole batches being rejected, Richard Kirkman, Veolia’s technical director, said. He admitted it would be difficult to persuade people to use the bins. “The common problem we have with recycling is how many people are willing to do it. But if we have a lot of bins and people see others using them, they will be encouraged to do it. Recycling needs to be easier than doing anything else [with your waste],” he said.
Recycled cups will be turned into products such as home insulation, hospital trays, egg boxes and cup holders given back out in coffee shops.
The Liberal Democrats have called for a compulsory 5p charge on disposable cups to encourage people to bring reusable ones. Plastic bag usage fell 85 per cent at major retailers after a 5p charge was introduced in England in October 2015.
Starbucks and Costa offer a 25p discount to customers using a reusable cup, but very few do so. When Starbucks temporarily doubled its discount to 50p last year, the proportion of customers with reusable cups rose by only 0.2 percentage points to 1.2 percent.