Major coffee chain says it will recycle as many as half a billion coffee cups each year

  • Costa Coffee wants to recycle up to 500 million coffee cups per year by 2020.
  • For every ton of cups collected, Costa will pay a supplement of £70 to waste collectors.
Christopher Furlong | Getty Images

A leading U.K. coffee chain is to recycle up to 500 million coffee cups per year by 2020.

Costa Coffee said Wednesday that the half a billion figure was the equivalent of its total annual sales of takeaway cups and 20 percent of the 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups used in the U.K. each year.

The inner sections of many disposable cups are made from a mixture of paper and plastic. So while coffee cups can be recycled, they need to be collected and sent to facilities that can process them correctly. Costa said it would pay to ensure that takeaway cups were collected and then sent to paper mills — there are three such sites in the U.K. — with the capacity to recycle them.

For every ton of cups collected, Costa will pay a supplement of £70 ($99) to waste collectors. This, the business said, would make it both commercially and financially attractive for collectors to set up the infrastructure and processes required to collect, sort and then transport cups to recycling facilities.

Wednesday's announcement was made in partnership with five major waste collectors: Veolia, Biffa, Suez, Grundon and First Mile.

"Following today's announcement up to 100 million cups will be recycled this year alone and if the nation's other coffee chains sign up, there is no reason why all takeaway cups could not be recycled by as early as 2020," Costa Managing Director Dominic Paul said in a statement.

Paul added that Costa wanted to guarantee to its customers that if they threw their cup in the right recycling bin, it would get recycled. "We have set our own target to recycle the same volume of takeaway cups we use every year and call on other cup retailers to join and help to build a dynamic market for takeaway coffee cup recycling."

A number of coffee chains are looking to mitigate the environmental impact of disposable cups. In February, for instance, Starbucks launched a five pence paper cup charge in a number of its stores across London, with proceeds from the levy donated to environmental charity Hubbub. Hubbub will assess how the three-month trial impacts customer behavior.

Commenting on Costa's move to boost recycling, U.K. Environment Minister Therese Coffey described it as a "significant step by a British business which should dramatically increase the number of disposable coffee cups we recycle in this country."