Innovate Blog
Recycling PE Lined Paper Cups in the UK

Wednesday August 24, 2016

Ask the Expert: Jo Gilroy (Head of Sustainability).

We asked our Sustainability expert ‘What are your customer’s FAQs on paper cup recycling?’

And here’s what she told us…


Sustainability Expert - Jo Gilroy Twitter - @JoannaGilroy

Sustainability Expert – Jo Gilroy Twitter – @JoannaGilroy

This really is a hot topic, as just last week Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall put single-use cups firmly in the spotlight in the latest episode of his BBC One series ‘War on Waste’. We’ve been in dialogue with our customers on this issue for some time, and we have clear and factual information to some of the most frequently asked questions on-hand:

Q: Are all hot cups made from the same materials?

No. There are two types of hot cup commonly available on the market, a polyethylene (PE) lined cup which is recyclable or a polylactic acid (PLA) lined cup which is compostable. The following key facts in this document relate to PE lined (recyclable) cups only. PLA lined cups are not recyclable.

Q: Are hot cups recyclable in the UK?

PE lined paper hot cups are recyclable if dealt with in the right way at their end of life. There are two specialist recycling facilities in the UK which accept used hot cups for recycling. A unique scheme called Simply Cups currently operates a credible collection and recycling service for hot cups, funded by an annual membership fee, where the cups are sent directly to these specialist facilities.

Q: If hot cups are recyclable, then why are they not recycled more often?

There are two main barriers which prevent cups from being recycled:

  1. Used hot cups are often heavily contaminated from coffee dregs and filled with used lids and napkins. Any recyclable product can only be recycled if the contamination can be removed, and currently this contamination is not being addressed.
  2. After disposal, the majority of hot cups in the UK are sent to Materials Recycling Facilities (MRFs) for sorting and transportation to a recycling facility. Currently, used coffee cups have no resale value as recyclate because there is no end market for the material, so they are not separated out for recycling and are more likely to be sent to incineration facilities.

Q: Do any credible solutions exist for recycling hot cups?

The Simply Cups scheme is currently the only service on the market which offers a credible and transparent solution for collecting and recycling hot cups. The scheme is funded through an annual membership fee and a collection cost of £1.50 per bag. As founding members, Bunzl Catering Supplies (BCS) offer their customers a 20% discount off the annual membership fee to encourage the adoption of the solution.

The Simply Cups scheme is an effective solution because it bypasses the MRF process altogether allowing the segregation, collection and recycling of the cups direct to specialist facilities. Simply Cups have also worked with partners to develop a brand new polymer which can be used to produce a range of high quality items that will create an end market demand for this material. Click here to view a short video explaining how the Simply Cups scheme works.

Q: Are there any hot cups available which are made from recyclable material?

Currently every commercially available hot cup is made from virgin material and is either lined with PE or PLA. Paper cups cannot be made from recycled material because of restrictions from EU food contact legislation. It is not possible to fully trace the original source of recycled paper board and without full traceability, it cannot be classed as a food contact safe product.

Q: Is the use of virgin material in hot cups environmentally damaging?

Bunzl Catering Supplies has a stringent procurement policy ensuring all paper products are manufactured from sustainably managed forests which do not damage the environment.

Q: What is happening to my used hot cups now?

If you want to learn exactly where your hot cups currently end up you can engage with your waste provider for this information. If you would like to join the Simply Cups scheme please contact your Bunzl Catering Supplies account manager.