03/11/16 The waste mountain of coffee cups

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Every day hundreds of thousands of Britons put their coffee cup into a recycling bin. They’re wrong – those cups aren’t recyclable, and the UK throws away 2.5bn of them a year

Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

to appeal: a quality that causes people to like someone or something

dodgy: in bad condition – causing a lack of trust or confidence – false or dishonest

to clutch: to hold onto (someone or something) tightly with your hand

pointless: having no meaning, purpose, or effect

stock-in-trade: the equipment, merchandise, or materials necessary to or used in a trade or business

hefty: very large


One chilly morning last March – exactly the sort of morning when a warming cafe latte could seem appealing – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (a celebrity chef) took to the streets of London in a double-decker bus adorned with 10,000 empty takeaway coffee cups.

It might have looked like a piece of dodgy conceptual art, but it was actually designed to illustrate the vast volume of takeout cups thrown away daily in the UK.

The bus didn’t represent all of them, though – 10,000 is the number of cups the UK gets through in just two minutes.

The British – like the Americans and Italians – are a nation of caffeine addicts. Walk down any busy street and you’ll see people clutching coffee-filled cardboard vessels.

That adds up to a huge number of used cups – more than seven million a day, or 2.5 billion a year. The sorry truth is, next to none of them are recycled – and the even sorrier fact is that no-one’s taking responsibility for that, least of all the big coffee retailers who have created this takeout trash mountain.

Most consumers wrongly assume that paper cups are a “green” choice. It’s an assumption coffee companies are happy not to challenge. They know differently, but they’re keeping that to themselves. They’re not going to tell conscientious consumers that putting a used coffee cup in a recycling bin is pointless. But it is.

The takeout cups that are the stock-in-trade of High Street coffee giants such as Starbucks, Caffe Nero and Costa are currently almost impossible to recycle.

To make these cups waterproof, the card is fused with polyethylene, a material that cannot be separated out again in a standard recycling mill.

What’s more, the cups are not even made from recycled material in the first place – the way they are designed means one thin seam of card inside the cup comes into contact with the hot drink, so they have to be made from virgin paper pulp.

And of course, they have very brief lives – just the time it takes to down a macchiato. The millions of coffee cups we use every day are, in effect, virgin materials with a single use, thrown almost immediately into the bin – a horrendous waste, with a hefty carbon footprint.

These poly-lined cups are, technically, capable of being recycled – a fact that enables coffee companies to describe them as “recyclable”.

However, the reality is this is only possible in a highly specialised recycling facility – of which there are only two in the UK. One of these sites has never actually dealt with a single paper cup – the other has processed a very tiny number.

In every meaningful sense, conventional paper coffee cups are not recyclable in Britain.

adapted from: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36882799

“Let’s chat about that!”

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂

  • Why is the bus covered in coffee cups?
  • Why are coffee cups not being recycled?
  • Is takeaway coffee fashionable in your country? Why/not?
  • What in your opinion, is the future of the takeaway coffee cup? 
  • Having read the article, are you less likely to get a takeaway coffee from Starbucks or from one of the other High Street coffee giants?

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