Can You Recycle Coffee Cups?

19th January 2024

By Graham Matthews

Step into any high street coffee shop or fast-food chain for a takeaway hot beverage and you’ll likely be handed it in a disposable cup. Every year 500 billion disposable coffee cups are used around the world. What happens to these cups after drinking your brew has a big impact on the environment.

You can recycle coffee cups but it’s not always as simple as throwing them away in a recycling bin. This is because most disposable coffee cups are made from a mixture of materials including a plastic or wax lining. However, you should never chuck out your used coffee cup with general waste.

Discover everything you need to know about coffee cup recycling whether you’ve just finished a hot drink on the go, run a high street café, or want to provide a recycling service in your coffee shop.

paper coffee cup on table under woman's hand.

Are coffee cups recyclable?

Coffee cups are recyclable. However, they can’t be recycled with other paper waste or cardboard recycling, which means you can’t throw them away in household recycling bins. This is because disposable coffee cups have a thin plastic or sometimes wax lining to prevent leaking, improve durability, and control the temperature.

To recycle coffee cups this lining must be removed from the cup so the paper can then be recycled. Many standard recycling plants won’t accept disposable coffee cups for recycling as they don’t have the facilities for this and may send such waste for incineration or even landfill. Using specific bins, collection, and recycling services for coffee cups is vital.

Are coffee cups biodegradable?

Most disposable coffee cups are not biodegradable. This is due to the plastic lining they contain, which means they can take between 20 and 30 years to decompose. As they break down any toxins from the plastic may leach into the ground, which can have a negative environmental impact.

It’s best to recycle coffee cups where possible. There are more compostable coffee cups being developed and used that are plastic-free. These should break down in three months, but many are industrially compostable so may not be suitable for your compost pile in the garden. Check the cup to ensure it’s disposed of responsibly.

How to recycle coffee cups

To recycle disposable coffee cups you should first pour out any remaining liquid and make sure it’s empty. Then find a dedicated coffee cup bin and throw it away. Most high-street coffee chains should have well-signed coffee cup recycling bins in place, as will some shops and cafes.

After disposing of your used coffee cup it should then be recycled. The process of coffee cup recycling follows these steps:

  • Bags from inside each coffee cup recycling bin are removed and collected by a waste collection company.
  • They’re transported to a specialist recycling facility where the coffee cups are assessed, sorted, and baled.
  • Next, these bales of coffee cups go to a recycling plant with the infrastructure to recycle them.
  • The plastic lining is stripped from the paper cup, separated, and sent to be recycled and reprocessed into new plastic products.
  • All the remaining paper fibres then follow the same paper recycling process and are turned into new paper and card products.

Benefits of coffee cup recycling

Recycling coffee cups diverts waste from being sent to landfill sites across the UK. The high-quality paper fibre from recycled coffee cups can be used to create new paper products that save on the resources and energy required to make new coffee cups. It also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is a result of paper rotting in landfill.

Coffee cup recycling for businesses helps save money on waste management costs too. You should create less general waste and diverting coffee cup waste away from landfill means you’ll pay less landfill tax. Plus, recycling helps boost your brand’s green credentials and attract more eco-conscious customers.

How to reduce coffee cup waste

Reducing coffee cup waste is important to help protect the environment. There are a few ways coffee drinkers and businesses can work to reduce coffee cup waste:

  • Switch to reusable cups – carry a reusable cup or flask with you and ask baristas to pour your brew into that to avoid using a disposable coffee cup and creating waste.
  • Make your own coffee – simply make your own coffee at home and take it to work, on a walk, or anywhere else. You won’t be tempted to buy one on the go and use a disposable cup while saving money too.
  • Use coffee cup recycling bins – if your business sells hot drinks in disposable cups you should have at least one coffee cup recycling bin in place. This helps customers responsibly dispose of their used cups and reduces waste going to landfill.
  • Charge extra for disposable cups – businesses can also add an extra charge for anyone using disposable cups or offer a discount for reusable cup users. This should help reduce disposable cup usage and waste.

Coffee cup recycling facts

It’s estimated that around 6.5 million trees are cut down to make all the paper cups used for drinking coffee every year. Simply switching to reusable cups could save forests across the world and help the planet. Here are some more coffee cup waste statistics for the UK that will make you spit out your drink:

  • Around 7 million coffees are sold in paper cups each day in the UK
  • The UK gets through 5 billion disposable coffee cups every year
  • Less than 1% of coffee cups are recycled
  • About 500,000 cups are littered daily
  • According to YouGov figures 52% of people dispose of coffee cups at work

Coffee cup recycling for businesses

Coffee shops, cafes, shops, and even offices can all benefit from having dedicated coffee cup bins in place. These provide an easy way for customers, staff, visitors, and anyone else to recycle used coffee cups. It should help reduce the amount of general waste and empty cups going to landfill or for incineration.

At Divert we’re all about diverting waste away from landfill, including coffee cups. We can provide free bins for businesses to recycle paper and cardboard – you only pay for collections. If you’re interested in bins for just coffee cup recycling then we can also help work out an effective solution for your company.

Get more information about help with coffee cup recycling for your business today – call 0333 444 0118 or contact us online.