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GPI: Paper cup recycling increases across the UK

Mike Turner, managing director of Graphic Packaging International’s European Foodservice business has addressed “the misconception that the paper cup cannot be recycled.”
Mike Turner, GPI MD & Paper Cup Alliance spokesperson

Turner, who is also spokesperson for the Paper Cup Alliance, has spoken out following the recent announcement that the Environment Audit Committee is calling for the introduction of a 25p levy on single-use paper hot beverage cups

“Let’s be clear, paper cups are recyclable, and they are being recycled. If you are using a paper cup today it is entirely recyclable,” he said.

Working through the Paper Cup Alliance, the industry is itself funding a major programme to boost the collection of used paper cups from across the country, so they can be sent to one of four recycling facilities that already exist in the UK. These facilities are able to separate the thin layer of plastic (polyethylene, PE, which comprises about 4% of the material in the cup) from the paper enabling both paper and plastic to be fully recycled.

“Paper cups are recyclable and they are being recycled but we’ve got to capture the cups once they’ve been used by the consumer, which is why we, as the Paper Cup Alliance are investing our money – not the government’s money – to improve the infrastructure to collect these cups,” Turner explained.

“We put in 4,000 recycling points last year and this programme will continue during 2018 with the addition of a further 415 points. We’re going to collect those cups and get them to the four facilities that can process that material today – a fifth one is opening later in the year. This is a really positive story.

“We don’t want product going to landfill. There is a market for these paper cups; that’s why we’re collecting them, getting them into our facilities and turning them into other products.

Turner recently met with Antoinette Sandbach MP, constituency member for Eddisbury who broadly supports the industry’s efforts to increase recycling of paper cups.

“We strongly feel a levy is not the way to go. It will impact the consumer. It won’t add to the infrastructure necessary to collect the cups. It will also impact the high street and the manufacturing base. Post-Christmas the high street often has a hard time, so let’s not make the situation worse for coffee shops – that employ around 100,000 people – with the impact of a tax. My members in the Paper Cup Alliance employ 1,700 people – that’s skilled jobs in UK manufacturing. The industry, through the Paper Cup Alliance is taking action. This is happening. The number of cups being recycled is increasing and will continue to increase. A levy simply is not the way to go.

“Consumers want to do the right thing; they want their cups to be recycled. We understand there is consumer confusion about how to dispose of them and agree that investment is needed in separate collection bins for cups.”

In the UK the most widely recycled materials at the moment are tin and aluminium with high public engagement and awareness of the recyclability of those products, but still only 60% of those are being recycled. Through the work of organisations like the Paper Cup Alliance the industry is working hard to achieve even higher recycling rates for paper cups. “It would be a great goal to reach 100% paper cup recycling in five years – we would love to achieve that and we’re going to work hard to do so,” Turner added, although he admits that may be unrealistic.