Brand Snapshot | James Cropper: turning coffee cups into luxury packaging

James Cropper can solve a problem most of us didn’t even know existed: how to turn used and discarded coffee cups (all 30,000 tonnes of them) into something useful and beautiful.

Perched on the banks of the River Thames, overlooking the magnificent Palace of Westminster and (temporarily silenced) Big Ben, the historic County Hall is the grand home of Walpole – and a very well-known coffee chain. As such, most mornings see the team scoop up an energising espresso or invigorating green tea to fuel the day ahead, kept warm during the two-minute walk up to the office in a white-and-burgundy lidded paper cup. But with the recent news that MPs are looking to ban these takeaway containers (as, shockingly, only 1% of the 2.5 billion cups used in the UK each year are recycled) we may have to rethink our morning beverage. But there is good news from Walpole member James Cropper: as one of only two UK facilities who can ‘upcycle’ discarded coffee cups, they are able to turn 500 million of them into luxurious packaging or premium quality paper each year.

Disposable cups cannot be recycled by the normal systems because they are made from cardboard with a tightly bonded polyethylene liner, which is difficult to remove, and means they are not accepted by most paper mills.

Phil Wild, CEO of British master papermaker James Cropper PLC, told us: “Coffee cups provide a rich source of high-quality material, which we’re able to upcycle into a wide range of useful products, including luxury packaging. Seeing this go to waste on a huge scale is what led us to develop our CupCycling technology.

“Disposable coffee cups are well designed for their purpose and are absolutely recyclable if disposed of in the correct way, and the processes and technology required to do so are already in place. James Cropper is one of only two facilities in the UK with the capability to recycle coffee cups, with a current capacity to upcycle 500 million cups per year.

“However, currently only one per cent of the 2.5 billion cups we use in the UK each year are being recycled – a problem that comes down to a lack of sufficient infrastructure and consumer information. In order to significantly increase these rates in line with the Environmental Audit Committee’s 2023 aspiration, it will take continued investment in nationwide recycling initiatives.

“At James Cropper, we’ve developed the technology to recycle disposable paper cups on a commercial scale with our CupCycling process. Furthermore, we have created a supply chain by partnering with waste management companies, coffee chains and restaurants, enabling cup waste to be turned into beautiful papers. For example, we work with Selfridges to take their used coffee cups and use the reclaimed fibres to produce their iconic yellow shopping bags.

“What we need now is to build on the platform that has already been created so we can collectively instil a change in consumer habits and tackle a longstanding environmental concern.”

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