Coffee shops are not doing enough to deal with the billions of disposable cups that are thrown away in the UK each year, an influential committee of MPs has been told.
The environment audit committee heard that the “phenomenal growth” of “on the go coffee” meant that 2.5bn disposable cups are thrown away annually in the UK, a number expected to rise to about 3bn by 2025. Only 1% are recycled.
Committee chair Mary Creagh said this “massive increase” was having a damaging environmental impact and insisted it was time the big coffee chains did more to address the waste they produce.
Related: UK’s billions of takeaway cups could each take ’30 years’ to break down
“These coffee shops have a big responsibility under the the producer responsibility obligations to provide proper recycling facilities and they are in breach of them.”
The runaway popularity of coffee shops shows no sign of slowing down. There are currently about 20,000 outlets in the UK and the committee heard that figure is likely to increase to 30,000 by 2025. This would result in millions more coffee cups being thrown away each day.
Although the majority of people believe that any disposable cups put into a recycling bin will be broken down and the material reused, the committee heard that is not the case. The plastic lining in cups means they can not be recycled in normal depots and have to be put in special bins and sent to one of three dedicated recycling mills.
Green party MP Caroline Lucas said the key was to encourage the use of reusable cups.
“It seems to be that [reusable cups] are the best solution if we can get to that and I know some coffee shops offer an incentive if people bring a reusable cup but uptake stands at only 2%.”
The committee raised the possibility of banning the current disposable cups to encourage more easily recyclable alternatives or charging more to use them. These suggestions were opposed by a representative from Costa Coffee and the packaging industry who insisted they were working towards creating a system which would allow consumers to recycle the existing cups.
The committee also heard from Martin Myerscough, founder of Frugalpac, which claims to make fully recyclable coffee cups.
“We decided it was the cup that was the problem not the recycling system,” said Myerscough. “So we have designed our cup so it can go in any bin and be recycled in any mill.”
He said the company was just completing its first high-speed machine that would make fully recyclable cups at the same speed and for the same price as the existing ones.
“It’s a completely scaleable solution. The cups are the same price, they look the same and they taste the same,” he told the committee.
Matthew Taylor Environment correspondent
Copyright © 2017 theguardian.com. All rights reserved.