Coffee culture has had a profound effect on the UK high street over the last twenty years. Back in 1999, there were less than 600 branded outlets but our thirst for coffee, coupled with an explosion in on-the-go drinking, now means we now have a choice of around 26,000 coffee shops and a market that is worth £4.5 billion pounds a year.
The takeaway beverage cup, over 10 billion of which are used each year in the UK, is a phenomenal piece of packaging design. It is, however, extremely hard to recycle. Although most of the cup is made from paper, the plastic lining, that keeps the cup from going soggy, is so closely bonded to the paper that only very specialist facilities can process them.
These vast numbers of cups also quickly clog up bins due to their voluminous shape, creating higher waste disposal costs. Due to consumer confusion, these cups also contaminate recycling bins since consumers mistakenly think they can be treated like other paper products.
Despite the vast numbers of used cups being disposed of each year, businesses and consumers were blind to the issue. Furthermore, coffee shops, cup manufacturers and the waste industry chose to ignore the problem, even though it had the potential to damage their reputation and sustainability credentials should it be fully exposed.
co-cre8, however, recognised an opportunity to offer a service that would not only segregate and collect cups at source, but would also recycle them into new products, thereby diverting them away from landfill or incineration. It would provide businesses with waste disposal cost savings as well as improving their recycling rates.
In June 2014, co-cre8 launched ‘Simply Cups’; the world’s first cup collection and recycling service.
The launch of the service prompted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to feature cup waste in his BBC program ‘War on Waste’, which brought nationwide attention to the issue throughout the whole of the media. Simply Cups has not only changed consumer behaviour, by stimulating the growth of reusables, but has also forced coffee shops, the supply chain, the waste industry and even government to accept that action needed be taken.
Simply Cups is now recycling over 15 million cups each year, from over 100 business, including many high-profile names such as Johnson + Johnson, Zurich, Channel 4, Nestle, Shell and Sodexo. It has developed a range of highly functional and durable recycling bins, suitable for any environment or setting, together with a collection of products, all made from used cups, including the world’s first reusable cup.
As well as the pioneer of cup-recycling in the UK, Simply Cups has expanded internationally and is now operational in Australia, New Zealand, Belgium and the Netherlands.
With eighteen other service providers now offering cup collection services, this is absolute proof that disruptive innovation is an effective means of changing the status quo.
In 2019, the Simply Cups membership scheme was fully acquired by Simply Waste Solutions, which in turn was acquired by Biffa plc, the largest operator of waste management and recycling services to industry in the UK.
“We lost count of the times were told ‘it couldn’t be done’, ‘there’s no value in it’ or, worse still, ‘there’s no appetite from businesses or consumers“says Peter Goodwin, Co-founder of co-cre8.