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There Are Giant Coffee Cup Bins on the Streets of Manchester, and Here’s Why

hubbub coffee cup bins

The non-recyclability of most coffee cups has, in a practical sense, been one of the coffee industry’s biggest environmental black eyes for decades. While solid data on the numbers of cups that are regularly discarded are hard to come by, the daily contribution to landfills throughout the coffee-drinking world is without a doubt mountainous.

Working with the premise that some 7 million coffee cups are discarded daily in the UK alone, the London-based Hubbub Foundation has launched a simple, affordable and yet creative trial program in Manchester that will, if nothing else, give discarded cups new life in an upcycling application.

Beginning Oct. 5, the organization placed 11 coffee-cup-shaped recycling bins throughout the city, hoping consumers will take the straightforward visual cue and recognize them as an eco-friendlier alternative to traditional recycling or trash bins.

It’s the thin plastic lining that has been the problematic barrier between most to-go cups and recycling efforts, with the actual recycling of such cups often dependent upon the programming resources of local agencies, who in most cases separate cups out as waste for a lack of dedicated processing facilities. By most accounts, less than 1 percent of coffee cups are ultimately recycled in the U.S. and U.K. markets.

Coffee companies such as Starbucks have publicly recognized the issue, and have hinted at plans to improve cup technology to increase mainstream recyclability, but development and adoption have been slow in coming to most carry-out coffee purveyors.

In the meantime, Hubbub’s project partners plan to essentially upcycle the discarded coffee cups as part of its new program, called #1MoreShot, converting them into planters for community gardens throughout Manchester. The group says that 20,000 coffee cups can be transformed into 15,000 planters.

The Manchester program has been supported by Caffé Nero, Costa, Greggs, KFC, Manchester City Council, McDonald’s, Nestlé, Pret a Manger and Waitrose. If the trial succeeds, Hubbub says it will work to expand the program to additional markets. The trial is slated to conclude Dec. 25.

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