In Birmingham there are dozens of coffee shops. We are a city swimming in tea and coffee and if we’re not careful we will be swimming in waste as well!
A recent exposé into the growing epidemic of binned coffee cups by TV’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall revealed that over 2.5 billion cups are thrown away every year in the UK. That’s 7 million every day. Although we can and should recycle more, not all paper cups are recyclable. Some cups do display the recognisable circulating arrows, but these may only refer to the removable corrugated sleeve. The inside of the cup is coated with a fine plastic polyacetylene sheath that keeps the coffee in the cup and the cup out of the recycling process. Not only are they non-recyclable, but due to food packaging regulations, they’re not even made of recycled material. The seam inside of your cup means the coffee connects with the cup fibres and must therefore be made of new material, that is an alarming number of trees heading straight to the tip.
Customers that take these cups often do so for convenience or to minimise the amount of washing up we have to do. Taking a flask or reusable cup is the only way to guarantee environmental sustainability. Many coffee outlets now sell reusable cups and offer discounts to their environmentally conscious customers. This is a step in the right direction, but in order to keep momentum we need to spread the word.
Fortunately, not all of the disposable cups available in Birmingham are an environmental disaster. Vegware, a company used by Café Waterstones are entirely compostable. They have developed a technique to replace the polyacetylene lining with a plant based one and recently earnt the award for Best New Product at the Climate Week Awards. It is the growth of these new technologies and changes in consumer awareness that are needed to reverse this coffee based epidemic. So spread the word and treat yourself to a new flask!