Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'War on Paper Cups' campaign swiftly followed by Defra Minister Rory Stewart's announcement that coffee cups 'seem to be a very good thing to look at next' has brought paper cup recyclability sharply into focus.
The Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) welcomes the raising of this issue by Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall as while great strides have been made to make paper cups recyclable, a lack of consistent infrastructure means the volume being recycled falls a long way short of what should be possible and UK businesses could be missing out on 60 000 tonnes of very quality recycled paper and board annually.
It is the sincere hope of the FPA that current debate will act as a catalyst to achieve swift progress and new recycling schemes that are easy to implement across the supply chain.
However the FPA challenges a number of assertions made this week:
- That disposable paper cups are not recycled
- That retailers are misleading their publics
- That retailers are acting arrogantly
- That a tax on paper cups, 'like the bag tax' is the answer
1. Disposable paper cups can be recycled
Cups can and are being recycled. The FPA has actively encouraged collaboration across the supply chain and the recent FPA Environment Seminar brought together waste management organisations, national and local government, recyclers, food service retailers and caterers and packaging manufacturers and distributors. The new collaboration between McDonald's Restaurants, James Cropper Papers and Simply Cups was announced at the Seminar and applauded as an example of best practice.
Recycled volumes are however still very low, because recycling paper cups is complex. To recycle the paper the PE coating must be removed, which is not as complex as recent media has suggested. The PE can also be recycled. Separate waste stream collection of paper cups does produce high quality recycled paper and board, however, paper cups can also be recycled and recovered through mainstream waste channels producing acceptable quality and marketable recyclate, saving the use of virgin material. Overall there is the potential to produce up to 60,000 tonnes a year.
2. Retailers are not misleading their publics
Retailers are fully aware of the implications of discarded disposable coffee cups and have actively worked on improving recycling rates on their premises and are collaborating through the FPA to find ways to increase recycling rates once consumers have left the retailer. The FPA meets with foodservice retailers and caterers to agree strategies to increase the volume of foodservice packaging that is recycled and to support their investment in recycling projects.
Retailers have provided consumers with accurate information about the composition of packaging materials in accordance with the law. The FPA does not believe the public has intentionally been mislead, nor that the waste management industry has deliberately mislead with regard to the difficulties involved.
3. Retailers are not acting arrogantly
The retailers have already contributed significant funds into research particularly with the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group (PCRRG).
It is important to understand that paper cups represents a tiny fraction of the UK waste stream and retailers have made huge advances in reducing food and packaging waste and increasing recycling rates across the board.
The FPA has been pushing for the paper cups issue to gain more attention for a number of years and has had to work hard to convince Government and agencies that paper cups offer up great potential and paper cup recycling deserves greater focus and resource. The FPA welcomes the attention that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's campaign is giving to this issue and is actively seeking meetings with the Minister and organisations such as WRAP to kick start initiatives on the back of this campaign.
The FPA believes that more education is needed amongst consumers to recognise that disposable paper cups are a valuable post-consumer resource and must be handled accordingly. The FPA also now urges waste management organisations to look even more closely at the potential offered by paper cups and work with the FPA to realise this potential.
A number of the FPA's cup manufacturers have invested large sums into the PCRRG. The group also includes foodservice retailers, beverage brands and NGO's and the PCRRG has been discussing a way forward with the UK waste management industry.
4. A tax on paper cups, 'like the bag tax' is not the answer
The FPA strongly believes that the Minister (Rory Stewart, DEFRA) has been severely misquoted and his statement does not say that he is looking at tax as a solution.
The issue of paper cups is not similar to the 'bag tax' for the following reasons:
- Taxing disposable paper cups will not increase recycling rates
- Taxing disposable paper cups will not affect behaviour of those who litter - the FPA believes changing consumer behaviour through education will achieve this
- Tax will not prevent 10's of millions of use paper cups from being discarded
The FPA together with Mark Pawsey MP (Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Packaging) is meeting with DEFRA Minister, Rory Stewart to discuss his intentions. Evidence shows paper cups can be recycled at a fraction of a charge and that establishing a system for collecting cups and recycling them is far more important than attempting to deter consumers from enjoying coffee in the way they do. It is also generally agreed that a charge on cups will not change the behaviour of those who litter.
A meeting has also been requested with Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall.
The FPA also works closely with the Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group consisting of paper cup manufacturers, beverage brands, recyclers and NGO's. This group has conducted extensive research into the recycling of paper cups. The PCRRG has made a statement which the FPA is pleased to endorse.