Nature and Biodiversity

Your morning coffee is destroying the planet

A coffee machine pours coffee into a paper cup in Kiev March 1, 2012.   REUTERS/Gleb Garanich (UKRAINE  - Tags: FOOD)   - RTR2YP01

More than 7 million disposable coffee cups are used every day in the UK alone Image: REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Emma Luxton
Senior Writer , Forum Agenda
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Every day many of us buy a takeaway coffee – then drop our empty cups in a recycling bin, thinking we’re doing our bit to help the environment.

In fact, we’re doing the opposite. More than 7 million disposable coffee cups are used every day in the UK alone, and the vast majority are not recycled.

Despite appearances (many takeaway cups have a recycling symbol printed on them), they’re almost impossible to recycle. To ensure they’re waterproof, cups are often fused with plastic, but many recycling sites are unable to separate the materials.

Scientists are already looking at possible alternatives. Engineer Martin Myerscough has created the Frugalpac cup, which is made from paper, with a thin layer of film to replace the plastic. The materials can be separated from each other easily so the paper cup can be recycled.

Starbucks is looking to trial these alternative cups in some of its stores. This could be a step towards the goal of increasing recycling rates of paper cups by 2020, a pledge 30 companies have agreed to, including coffee retailers Caffè Nero, Costa, Starbucks and Pret A Manger.

Our caffeine habits are also producing another source of landfill – pods.

Pod coffee machines have been widely embraced, with sales in Western Europe and the US more than tripling in five years.

But these pods are made of plastic and aluminium, which are difficult to recycle.

 Western Europe coffee machine sales
 US coffee machine sales

It is said that if you lined up all the single-use coffee pods sold by market leader Keurig, they would circle the world 12 times over.

Keurig, along with other major manufacturers, has planned to address the issue, pledging to create recyclable versions by 2020.

But authorities in one city have taken matters into their own hands. The German city of Hamburg has banned all coffee capsules from council-run buildings in an attempt to reduce waste and find more environmentally friendly alternatives.

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