The cup conundrum

Published on : 4/25/19
  • Sadly, our planet is under threat. Our climate is changing, our natural resources are running out and pollution is ruining our health, our landscape and our oceans. At Sodexo, we care deeply about this and we want to do our bit to help protect our precious environment.

    That’s why we’ve made it our mission to ensure that, by 2020, 70% of all waste on our sites will be recycled or reused, rising to 90% by 2025. And because great distances are covered with many small steps, we’re starting with cups.


    A single espresso, a huge problem

    Who doesn’t love their latte for a quick lift in the morning? Or rely on that cuppa for a 3pm pick-me-up? Getting a hot drink to go is a part of everyday life, which is why we serve almost 22 million cups of them every year in the UK and Ireland.

    But it’s not hot drinks that are the problem – it’s the cups they come in. Although they’re mostly made of paper, disposable cups are lined with plastic polyethylene to keep the liquid and heat locked in.

    Plastic is designed to be durable, making it difficult and expensive to recycle. In the UK alone, around 2.5 billion disposable cups are thrown away each year and less than 1% are recycled. Instead, they end up in landfills, incinerators or littering our beautiful landscape.

    Tricky but not impossible

    So what are we doing about this? First, we realised that although recycling disposable cups is challenging, it can be done. So, in 2017, we joined forces with Simply Cups, the UK’s only paper and plastic cup collection and recycling service. We’re now recycling over 220,000 hot drinks cups a month at nine of our sites.

    Peter Goodwin, Co-Founder of Simply Cups, explains that this union has been crucial in proving the doubters wrong and providing a means for real change:

    ‘We lost count of the times we were told, “It can’t be done,” or, worse still, “There’s no appetite from businesses or consumers.” Today, Simply Cups recycles over 25 million cups each year from over 100 businesses, and has made the rCup – the world’s first reusable cup made from used cups.

    ‘Partnering with organisations such as Sodexo, who supply us with disposable cups that would otherwise end up in landfill, is absolute proof that this kind of disruptive innovation is an effective means of changing the status quo.’ 

    Peter Goodwin, Co-Founder of Simply Cups

    Providing great alternatives


    When it comes to ‘going green’, people want to make good choices – the options just need to be there. So in March 2018, all our outlets started accepting every brand and type of reusable cup, with many also selling both rCups and KeepCups.

    The response has been phenomenal: so far, we’ve refilled our customers’ reusable cups 240,000 times. That’s nearly a quarter of a million fewer disposable cups being chucked away. In November 2018 alone, we sold 80,000 hot beverages in reusable cups, up from 7,000 in January the same year.

    Changing minds and habits

    Of course, getting into eco-friendly ways takes time and effort, which is why we now offer discounts on drinks served in KeepCups, RCups and similar alternatives – a shot of caffeine and a boost to the wallet!

    Levies have also been shown to help in the battle against dependency on plastics; for example, the UK’s 2015 nationwide plastic bag initiative reduced usage by around 85 percent. So we’ve worked with our clients to introduce a 10p ‘latte levy’ on takeaway cups at many sites, which has been claimed on a whopping 90,000 hot drinks so far.

    All the tea in china?

    Sodexco_Supporting-Image-2_369x275.jpgAnd we haven’t stopped there. At another of our sites, we’ve introduced china cups for self-service vending machines and installed dishwashers.

    Of course, there’s no silver bullet – money, energy and water are needed to wash china cups. But even more resources are needed to produce, transport and dispose of single-use cups, so china still wins out overall.

    It’s all about joining up the solutions and making them work for each client’s needs. As one happy customer said, ‘We introduced KeepCups, which has so far prevented over 230,000 cups being sent for disposal. Using both KeepCups and china cups, we hope to completely eliminate the need for single-use paper cups.’

    Looking at the issue clearly

    There’s no doubt that environmentally friendly alternatives help to reduce waste. But we’re taking things even further by thinking about what’s essential and what we can do without.

    By bringing in better, more sustainable options, we’ve reduced the need for polystyrene foam cups, and we plan to ditch them entirely by 2020.

    Straws and stirrers are generally unnecessary, and can even pose a hygiene risk, so we’ve pre-empted the anticipated government ban and removed them from all our sites.

    Drink to the future

    Together with our clients, we’re doing our bit for the planet by moving towards durable, reusable and recyclable solutions, all while providing customers with appealing alternatives to disposable cups. And we’re making sure that everyone can enjoy that extra-hot double-shot macchiato in the meantime.