Is our addiction to coffee killing the planet?

By: Henrietta Mackenzie

Coffee is the most popular drink worldwide (after water) with over 400 billion cups consumed each year. In the UK we drink on average two cups of coffee a day with 57% of coffee being drunk at breakfast, 34% between meals and 13% at other meals. But many of us like our coffee on the go which means we use 7 million disposable coffee cups every day with only 1 in 400 coffee cups actually recycled. The rest go to landfill sites and damage our ecosystem. 

Given the average lifespan of a disposable coffee cup is about 10–20 minutes, these are quite shocking statistics. But what is the solution? Should we recycle more or try and avoid them altogether?

Are takeaway coffee cups easy to recycle? 

While you might try and ease your conscience thinking that coffee cups can easily be recycled, the reality is it’s very difficult. Coffee cups are a mixture of paper and plastic in their inner lining, designed to make them both heat and leakproof. This is a nightmare for recyclers. In fact there are only a small number of specialist recycling plants in the UK that can process disposable coffee cups. You can also return them for recycling at some high street coffee store chains or put them in food and drink carton banks at Household Waste Recycling Centres. But the vast majority of single use coffee cups go straight to landfill. 

Reusable cups on the rise 

The coffee industry has fortunately seen a surge in reusable cups over the last five years, with retailers and consumers making an effort to cut their plastic consumption. As reusable cups continue to increase in popularity with 69% of UK consumers now owning one, the market has opened up with a wide variety of cups available, from Stojo’s collapsible cups made from food grade silicon to travel mugs from Hampstead Tea made from recycled coffee cups, Chilly’s insulated coffee cups and many more.  

But despite our love of reusable cups, research shows that only 1 in 6 say they remember to use them every time they buy a hot drink. The main reason is we simply forget to take them with us or we feel uncomfortable asking cafes to wash out our cups to refill again if we’ve already used them. So, despite our best intentions, many people are still relying on single use cups. 

Returnable packaging system

Another solution is a returnable packaging system for food and beverage brands, offering reusable cups and also food boxes to consumers for free with an incentive to return them. This is exactly what a UK startup called CLUBZERO is doing. They’ve pioneered an award winning returnable packaging system by partnering with businesses to make food and beverage more sustainable on the go with the ultimate goal of zero waste. To use their system, you download the app, then find the nearest location. Next choose your reusable packaging whether a reusable coffee cup or a food box, then once used you have seven days to return it to a CLUBZERO yellow box or arrange a home pickup in the app.

Taking small steps every day 

It’s encouraging to know that we’ve made steps in the right direction towards minimising our use of single use coffee cups, but research indicates we have a lot further to go. Encouraging more consumers to buy reusable cups is important, but embracing solutions like the returnable packaging system is vital so you can always make sustainable choices on the go, even if you leave your cup at home. While reducing the huge number of single use coffee cups (7 million a day!) won’t happen overnight, taking small steps every day is all we can do, and encourage others to do the same. 

Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

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I’m Henri, and welcome to Eco Friendly Henri, an eco-lifestyle blog providing tips and advice on how to live a more sustainable life.

My blog includes eco swaps, top tips, product reviews, interviews with eco brands and influencers, renewable energy stories and more.

I have always been eco conscious but raising my daughter opened my eyes to the fact that her generation will suffer if we don’t start making more changes to help protect the planet.

If you’d like to know more, please see my About page.

I hope you enjoy the blog.


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