The War On Plastic Accelerates In 2018
Do you ever stop to wonder what happens to your plastic cup after you’ve tossed it in the bin? Discover the grim truth about plastic recycling.
2.5 million plastic cups are thrown away each day in the UK, yet only 0.25% are able to be recycled according to a government audit report, which is not common knowledge amongst coffee drinkers. Chain coffee outlets often advertise that their cups can be recycled, which is not technically a mistruth. The problem lies in the enormous gap between the possibility of their materials used again, and the rate at which the recycling process is actually happening.
How Are Plastic Cups Produced?
Coffee cups are often lined with a substance called plastic polyethylene which enables it to hold liquid and remain waterproof. When it comes to recycling, these cups which are also contaminated with drinks, are unable to be broken down at standard recycling facilities and need treating at specialist plants, of which there are only 3 in the UK. Additionally, the ‘to go’ nature of plastic cups, means that consumers tend not to treat them with the same care they might take when separating their home products to be recycled. All too often, coffee drinkers grab a cup in a rush on the way to work or a meeting and discard it in the nearest bin in the street, on the train platform or in their general work refuse.
As a result, less than 1% of plastic cups are currently recycled in the UK each year.
The Effects Of Plastic On The Planet
So, what happens to these plastic cups that fail to be recycled? Unfortunately, they follow the same path as plastic water bottles, nappies and carrier bags that end up in landfills. It takes approximately 450 years for plastic cups to break down, meanwhile they sit there polluting the environment with toxins. Due to the low density of plastic, wind and rain assists this material in finding its way out to sea; it is estimated that there are now between 15-51 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans. This has a horrifying impact on marine life, where plastic is commonly ingested by creatures such as sea turtles and monk seals, down to smaller fish and seabirds.
What Can Be Done?
The problem of plastic pollution is one that must be tackled with a variety of approaches. Consumers should take responsibility for their individual actions and be willing to consider boycotting coffee shops in favour of making their own preferred beverage at home or in the workplace. They should also look out for brands who have switched the plastic cup for eco-friendly biodegradable paper cups instead.
Some major chain brands are already understanding their role in this environmental plague – Starbucks for instance, has introduced a 50p discount to those customers who bring their own reusable cup into the shop with them. Starbucks and Costa offer a similar scheme and have also introduced onsite recycling bins for their waste which is then shipped directly to the UK’s three specialist recycling plants. By doing so, they assist environmental groups in spreading the word about the horrors of plastic pollution.
MPs are also getting involved in the mission to eradicate plastic. They are currently lobbying for a total ban on disposable coffee cups if the target to make them 100% recyclable by 2023 is not met.
The war on plastic has only just begun; the next time you reach for that quick coffee fix, have a think about where your plastic cup could be 450 years from now.