- 19 Apr 2015
- Local time
- 7:33 PM
- Maidstone, Kent, UK
Coffee-addicted Britain is leaving a mountain of toxic waste for the next generation as scientists warn it could take decades for paper cups from Starbucks, Pret a Manger and other chains to decompose.
The environmental cost of the coffee-to-go culture has been highlighted amid growing concerns that much of the public wrongly believe the cups are recycled, when in fact they are dumped in the green bin in the office or the recycling bin on the street.
While the paper can be recycled, the problem arises because recycling plants do not have the facility to remove the plastic lining which makes the cups impermeable.
Chris Cheeseman, a professor of materials resources engineering at Imperial College London, says the polyethylene is resistant to degradation and could take around 30 years to break down. “Even then we don’t know for sure, because nobody has looked at the cup specifically,” added Cheeseman.
Even if there were no plastic lining, the cup could take at least two years to start breaking down because of the high quality paper. “In terms of environmental impact the cellulose fibre is potentially more of an issue than the plastic,” he said.
“This could take 18 months to two years to start to break down and then it produces methane gas which is probably not collected.”