The PCRRG (Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group) has published its latest Report, demonstrating real momentum behind paper cup recycling in the UK and that the greater majority of the UK population now has access to information, schemes and facilities that enable used paper cups to be sustainably recovered and recycled. The group acknowledges that more work needs to be done but calls for greater recognition that paper cups can and are being recycled.


This year’s report is specifically designed to demonstrate to all coffee businesses, large and small, high street and workplace, how coffee cups can be effectively recovered and recycled. The supply chain has worked hard to put the infrastructure in place and as operators start to re-open after lockdown the challenge is to ensure paper cups are recovered and recycled.


The move by the OPRL to put in place a specialist label for paper cups is a significant step forward recognising that paper cup recycling is available in every postcode in the UK.


PCRRG Chairman Neil Whittall says: “We believe what needs to happen now is more and better communication to help change consumer behaviour and get across the message that paper cups are recyclable, when they have repeatedly been told that they are not. Recycling your paper cup needs to become normalized behaviour. We know from research and evaluation of pilots and existing schemes that the process must be kept simple and easy for the consumer to engage and recycle – both to increase rates and to ensure that the waste stream is kept in the best condition”.


Figures from Valpak show that since its launch in 2018 the National Cup Recycling Scheme has collected and recycled over 150 million cups. In 2018 the UK cup recycling rates was estimated to be 1 in 400 (0.25%). The recycling rate for cups recycled through the Scheme is currently 6% based on the number of cups that the signatories placed on to market in 2019. This is the recycling rate for cups that are tracked through the Scheme, there are other suppliers of cups that are not included in these numbers (such as civic amenity sites, offices and Hubbub). There has been an increase of nearly 50% in the average number of cups being collected each day through the Scheme between the first and second years, although the number of cups being recycled per month has slowed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, cup recycling has not halted entirely.


Local authority collection of paper cups from bring bank sites has increased to 127, according to the latest figures. The PCRRG believes that a number of local authorities are waiting on the Consistent Waste Collection policy (which could provide the opportunity for cups to be collected alongside similar materials like those used in beverage cartons) to be implemented by government, which will result in the overhauling of some waste collection systems, holding up the addition of new material waste streams into current collections at this time. Existing waste collection contract structures could also be impacting possible inclusion, where additional materials cannot be added under existing schemes. 


Adds Neil: “We know that retailers are at different stages of their cup recycling journey. The PCRRG gives them a forum to share learnings and progress between them in a non-competitive environment and the Report highlights examples that can be replicated. COVID-19 has meant that many operators have closed and we sincerely hope the sector can survive this immense financial challenge. As we recover the PCRRG is strongly committed to continuing it work to ensure paper cups are recycled”.