Are Your Take Away Coffee Cups Recyclable?


Can we recycle a normal paper coffee cup? Unfortunately, the answer is no. During our day with  Precious Plastic Shanghai, we learnt that paper cups are not recyclable. So, that normal coffee cup you get when ordering a hot drink to go, cannot be recycled.

Four billion Starbucks paper cups are ending up in landfills every year. While the paper on the cup itself is made from recyclable materials, the inside of the cup is lined with polyethylene plastic (PET). The mix of paper and plastic cannot be recycled together but should be separated through expensive machines. If not, the plastic clogs the paper recycling machines. As a result, most of those paper cups eventually end up in a landfill instead.


Therefore, lawmakers in the UK are considering implementing what they have called the “latte levy”, a tax on all disposable coffee cups, that would raise the price of coffee by 25p (about 34 euro cents).

Considering that 2.5 billion cups are thrown away in the UK alone every year, it’s a much-needed proposal that could greatly decrease unnecessary waste, since only 1 in 400 of those cups actually get recycled. After initiating an incredibly successful tax on all plastic bags in 2016, the number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers in England has plummeted by more than 85%, so now the hopes are high for the same type of tax when it comes to coffee cups.


In the UK, Starbucks has long offered discounts to customers who have chosen to use a reusable cup. However, only 1.8% of their clients actually do this. If the plastic bag tax proves anything, it’s that consumers are highly adaptable when it comes to price climbs. If the price of your morning coffee goes up by 10%, it’s only logical to purchase a travel container as the savings greatly outnumber the cost.


In 2016, Starbucks worked with the British packaging company Frugalpac to design a fully disposable cup with a plastic lining which could be removed during the recycling process. However, it’s unclear as to whether their trial run in the UK was successful or not.

There’s no real evidence that says a latte levy will hit US shores in the near future, but with large chains and brands like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola taking steps to become eco-friendlier and fully recyclable, it might just be a matter of time before we see more and more of these changes.

At Swedbrand we fully praise these developments, and we will keep you posted on what the future holds!