A personal war on paper coffee cups…

So, if you read this blog or follow me on any form of social media, you will know that I love my coffee. I drink a lot. It’s pretty much my main vice and my lifeline, because you also know we don’t get that much sleep round here, sometimes. Coffee helps me be a nicer person!

I often buy coffee, from chains or coffee shops, or even independent coffee shops, and I also work with families and children running various groups locally, where we provide hot drinks for the adults. 

In short, I use a lot of paper cups for hot drinks. I like many people, thought that most paper cups we use for hot drinks, are mostly recyclable, and that when I chuck my paper cup and it’s plastic lid, into a bin meant for recycling, that I was doing a good thing, and that my cup was being recycled. Conscience appeased, right? 

Nope. Most cups used for hot drinks, here in the UK are not made of materials that can be recycled, and most of them end up in landfill. So, all those paper cups I am using for work and for personal, are not going where I thought they were… I was horrified when I found this out, and it’s been bothering me for months, since. 

This little snippet from a program by the lovely (I do think he is lovely) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, during the series he made called War On Waste, explains why coffee cups aren’t recycled like we think they are. 

So even if your cup has a little symbol on it, that LOOKS like it might be able to be recycled, it is probably not what you think. It may be that only part of the cup can be recycled, or the paper that covers it, or the heat proof sleeve, or just the lid. It’s deceptive and easy to think that we are being environmentally conscious when actually we aren’t. The plastic coating in cups means they cannot be recycled. 

So, if you, like me, get a cup of coffee on the way into work every day, or pick up a coffee to go, whilst out shopping, or use a chain of coffee shops that do not use china or washable cups, then you may need to think about where your coffee cup is going when you throw it away, if waste and landfill is a huge concern to you. (it should be for us all, frankly!)

I reckon we use roughly 120-150 paper coffee cups a week over the five groups I run, plus my own use of a coffee cup daily. That’s A LOT of paper cups filling up a hole in the ground somewhere and horrifies me…

We use paper cups at work for the adult hot drinks because they can be covered with a lid, which means there are likely to be less spills of hot fluids around small children. We do not currently have the budget for thermal reusable cups with lids, to cover the number of people we make hot drinks for. We do have a catering dishwasher available to use, but it’s on a separate floor of our building, so it would mean heavy trays of cups being carried upstairs to be washed then brought back down again. I am happy to do this, but I have to consider my volunteers and if they would or should have to cart heavy trays up and down stairs. 

So, my personal war on the paper coffee cup has started. 

My personal plan 

I will start taking my own cup with me, every morning, to get my coffee fix, before I face the day. It’s a bit of a pain some days, to cart one about, as I hate carrying too much stuff, but I will get used to it. I have started already, and mean to carry on…

My own coffee cup, for daily coffee sourcing. It’s pink, of course πŸ˜‰

So what is my grand plan?

For work purposes

We have three options – 

Use the china mugs we have in our building, and I will source plastic, recyclable lids that will fit, so that we can use them safely and minimize spills and splashes around the children in the groups, and I will buy a trolley that can be used to take the cups up stairs easily and safely. 

Or we buy/source cups that REALLY are made so they can be recycled, which so far, are more expensive than our limited budget as a small charity will allow. I am still looking for a source of these that will not break the bank. If you do have any ideas, I would be happy to hear from you…

Carry on as we are, and live with the guilt, but try and make up for the lack of recycling of cups in other areas. Not really an option, but something that some people would consider. 

At the moment, plastic lids for our china cups is my closest option. I hope to have this in place by the end of the summer term, to start the autumn term using no paper cups. 

What do you do about paper cups used for hot drinks? Did you know they aren’t recyclable? Or is this something you are surprised like me to realize that they are not as recyclable as they claim to be? 

My war on paper cups begins… πŸ˜‰

Shameless PR pitch. If you are a company that would like to help us with our coffee cup situation, please feel free to contact me!


A Green and Rosie Life
Posted in Everything else and tagged Going Green, landfill, paper coffee cups, recycling, war on waste.


  1. It does great on me how much waste there is. We actually bought a gorgeous reusable mug from a local company here in Cardiff

  2. I completly agree with you. I felt the same outrage when I watched the programme, because of course you assume if it has the recycle symbol on it then it can all be recycled, especially in this day and age with all our new technologies etc! It’s ridiculous really.

  3. Like you, until the lovely Hugh (yes he is lovely) alerted me to the fact that paper coffee cups are NOT generally recyclable thought they were. I rarely buy coffee on the go but I know how many other people do and for them the solution is easy – buy a washable cup and reuse it. For your work I can see the problems you are having and I hope you get a workable solution soon. Let me know!

    Thank you for linking up with the #GoingGreenLinky. The next one opens on Mon May 1st and I hope you can join up again ??

  4. I with you – paper coffee cups are such a waste. So glad to hear that you are waging war on them. We as Americans waste so much trash that is unnecessary or could be recycled. I hate that their is so much deception within companies to mislead consumers. We have to keep educated and do our research. Congratulation on being featured on #GoingGreenLinky

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