Why has Costa removed recycling bins for cups?

(Small) signs have started appearing in Costa Coffee outlets asking customers to “leave their cups on a shelf or hand them to a member of staff”.

A spokesperson for the chain, owned by Coca Cola, declined to say whether this is a new initiative designed to overcome high levels of contamination in recycling bins for single-use cups. Or if it is rowing back on the commitment, made under previous owner Whitbread, to recycle 500m cups by the end of this year.

Costa pays waste collectors a £70 supplement for every tonne of cups collected. This makes it “commercially and financially attractive” for its waste collectors (Veolia, Biffa, Suez, Grundon and First Mile) to put in place the infrastructure and processes to collect, sort and transport coffee cups to recycling plants. Costa said this will ensure it meets its commitment to recycle as many cups as it puts onto the market (500m) by the end of 2020. Within its first six months, the scheme reportedly recycled over 41m cups.

Many major coffee chains have been increasing the availability of recycling points for the 2.5 billion single-use cups used in the UK every year. The Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group said there were 4,800 points at the end of 2019.

Costa was the first UK chain (in 2017) to introduce cup recycling across all its stores, with 2,600 recycling points available. Cups from any brand are accepted. However, the removal of bins from some stores remains a mystery.

In 2018 only 4% of single-use cups were recycled. The 2019 figures are due to be published next month. The PCRRG predicted that recycling rates should have hit at least 8% last year.

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