UK cup recycling: Myth vs. fact

Samantha Ward, National Cup Recycling Manager, dispels 5 common myths about the recyclability of paper cups.

Myth #1 Cups cannot be recycled

It is commonly believed that paper cups used for hot drinks cannot be recycled due to their polyethylene lining. This is not the case. First, the cups are collected, baled and sorted by the waste collector. Next, they are delivered to the paper mill where they are pulped with water and the plastic lining is removed from the process. The process for recycling cups is not dissimilar to standard paper recycling.

Myth #2 Less than 1% of cups are recycled

Since its launch in 2018 the National Cup Recycling Scheme has collected and recycled over 155 million cups. The recycling rate for cups recycled through the Scheme is currently 6% based on what the number of cups that the signatories placed on to market in 2019. This is the recycling rate for cups that are tracked through the Scheme.

Myth #3 Cup recycling does not take place in the UK

All four of the mills which are partner to the National Cup Recycling Scheme are based in the UK, they are: James Cropper (Cumbria), DS Smith (Kent), ACE Sonoco (West Yorkshire) and Essity (Manchester).

Myth #4 Paper cups have a higher carbon footprint than the alternatives

Huhtamaki’s 2018 life cycle analysis study found that paper cups have a lower carbon footprint than common alternatives such as ceramic mugs and reusable cups.

Myth #5 Paper cups can only be recycled once

The fibres from paper cups can be recycled up to seven times into a variety of products ranging from everyday chipboard and paperboard to high quality paper products such as bespoke packaging and shopping bags. Coffee Notes, for example, have designed notebooks which contain a high recycled cup content, while Hallmark, have a range of greeting cards made with recycled cup content.


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