UK Coffee Cup Solution: Square Mile Challenge

Square Mile Challenge

This April will see the launch of the UK’s biggest push to date to tackle the issue of disposable coffee cup recycling.

The initiative launches in London’s Square Mile, which holds the UK’s biggest concentration of office workers, many of whom are fuelled by coffee.

The City of London, Network Rail, national coffee retailers and some of the Square Mile’s biggest employers, including Lloyd’s and Eversheds, are joining forces in a scheme led by environmental charity Hubbub, in partnership with recycling company Simply Cups, to introduce coffee cup recycling facilities across the city.

Every day up to seven million coffee cups are thrown away across the UK, with less than 1% of these cups thought to be recycled. The tricky issue to date has been the plastic film on the inside of the paper cups, which means that the cups can rarely be recycled with other mixed recycling.

The recycling methods used for the Square Mile Challenge will process the cups to create either a plastic or recovered fibre material which is made into new products.

Wendy Mead, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Environment Committee, said: “We are very excited that the City of London will be the first area in the UK to undertake such a significant commitment to tackling the problem of coffee cup waste. In April we are installing facilities to collect disposable coffee cups on the street and in stations, coffee shops and businesses across the Square Mile and our ambition is to recycle half a million cups in that first month.”

Gavin Ellis Co-Founder of Hubbub, said: “This is a big step up from the pilot scheme we have been running in Manchester, which has seen 20,000 cups recycled from one street over three months. With the collaboration of so many key organisations, we believe this will be a huge step forward in tackling a challenging environmental issue and we aim to build on from April to recycle five million cups from the Square Mile by the end of 2017. We hope that by making a success of a scheme of this scale, we will encourage other parts of the UK to follow suit and would hope to reach a point where recycling levels for coffee cups are on a par with those for drinks cans and bottles.”

This initiative has been made possible with the support of Bunzl Catering Suppliers, Costa, Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s, Nestlé, Pret A Manger, Starbucks and a group of the leading coffee cup manufacturers.

It follows the launch of the Paper Cup Manifesto in June 2016, which garnered over 40 signatories from companies involved in the coffee industry, committing to improve recovery and increase recycling of paper cups.

The first 30 businesses with over 500 employees to sign up to the Square Mile Challenge will receive a year’s free membership to collection services provided by Simply Cups, and all other businesses involved can take advantage of discounted rates for collections.

The coffee cups collected can be remade into a range of items, from pencils to park benches, which will be donated to local community projects and schools and used to reward those contributing the most to the recycling effort during the challenge.

Peter Goodwin, Director of Simply Cups, said: “It’s fantastic that big businesses are supporting the Square Mile Challenge. Large numbers of coffee cups are binned in offices as people arrive at work or pop out for coffees throughout the day. We’d like to see responsible disposal of these become as commonplace as paper recycling schemes in offices and we hope that seeing the products that can be produced from their recycled cups will help motivate city workers to support the recycling effort.”

Shirine Khoury-Haq, Chief Operating Officer at Lloyd’s said: “Real change comes from what we do as individuals and the Square Mile Challenge is all about this. Most of us grab a cup of coffee or tea at least once a day, and in the same way that disposing of a plastic bottle or can responsibly is becoming the norm, we can achieve the same thing with coffee cups. Given our origins in the Lloyd’s coffee shop, it is appropriate that our employees lead the way on this initiative.”

Organisations interested in introducing workplace coffee cup recycling should visit