Cup recycling and Hugh’s War on Waste – the Vegware view

This week, everyone has suddenly realised that conventional plastic-lined cups are rarely recycled – something we’ve known for a long time. Hugh’s War on Waste has done an excellent job of highlighting the challenges of recycling conventional foodservice packaging. This is a problem that Vegware solves.

“The truth is,” says Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, ”they are barely recyclable at all – in the everyday, commonly understood sense of the word. They cannot be recycled through any of the normal public waste collection services – who are consistently diverting them to be incinerated or sent to landfill.

Hugh’s War on Waste focused on coffee cups (as did the Guardian, the Daily Mail, Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show and more). But it’s about more than just cups – it’s the same issue for all takeaway packaging. 

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Conventional packaging uses various materials with mixed recycling streams, but compostable packaging is designed for food waste recycling

Conventional takeaway packaging uses a mix of materials (plastic, card, films, metals). Conventional coffee cups are lined with plastic, and sandwich boxes are card with a plastic window. Separately, plastic and card are easy to recycle. But combined, the card contaminates the plastics recycling and the plastic contaminates the card recycling. Then in use, add in the food inevitable residues. The result is a recycling problem – the reason why most UK foodservice packaging goes to landfill or incineration.

The sandwich box example was cited by Dr Forbes McDougall, Head of Circular Economy at Veolia, at the Foodservice Packaging Association’s recent Environmental Seminar – he said that even before you add in any food contamination issue, there was no good recycling option for items like this.

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If the whole package, including all the materials, can be recycled with food waste, there is no issue. No contamination, no sorting. With Vegware’s compostable cups, a plant-based lining replaces plastic. The entire package (complete with the compostable lid, stirrer, compostable sugar stick and any food residues) is perfect for food waste recycling – and we have compostability certification and real-life trials to prove it.

This is an existing and real solution, already in use across swathes of the UK, including at Cambridge University where they are now diverting 1.5 tonnes of used packaging to a local composting facility every month, as explained in this short case study film: 

There are other benefits to our materials, aside from the recycling opportunities. Our plant-based materials are renewable and low-carbon, unlike the finite fossil materials in conventional packaging. According to our Eco Audits, all our UK customers put together made these environmental savings in 2015:

  • Saved 3,500 tonnes of carbon – (that’s like cancelling the carbon from 6,093 flights from London to New York)
  • Used 1, 200 tonnes of recycled content
  • Used 2,700 tonnes of renewable plant materials – not plastic

We have won over 50 awards including the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development. Vegware makes up around 2% of the UK’s catering disposables, and our products are used by over half the UK’s universities. We are among the UK’s 100 fastest growing companies (Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 2015) and are also global, active in 5 continents.

We work closely with the whole of the UK waste sector to help our clients divert their waste from landfill. Our Food Waste Network is a free service helping Vegware clients set up food waste recycling. We mainly work with businesses providing in-house catering at sites like offices, universities schools and hospitals, and so where possible work with them to get the right waste route set up, create bespoke bin signage, run green days to help people recycle correctly, and do everything we can to reduce contamination. 

Tweet @vegware, call or email if you want to find out more about our solutions. We’re committed to helping foodservice go zero waste, and we’d love to hear from you.