Europe

Germany wakes up to the issue of waste with reusable coffee cups

A barista pours coffee into a cup in Tokyo, Japan, 20 May 2016 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Card coffee cups are fused with polyethylene to make them waterproof

The thought of 2.8 billion disposable coffee cups a year being dumped in landfill sites across Germany is enough to leave a bitter taste in the mouth of any consumer.

With 320,000 "to go" coffees delivered over the country's counters every hour, according to the German environmental aid forum, the impact of this growing trend is extensive.

To tackle the issue, the university city of Freiburg has come up with a pioneering scheme aimed at reducing waste.

The "Freiburg Cup", made from dishwasher-proof plastic and obtained from cafes and bakeries for a deposit of one euro, can be reused hundreds of times ‒ or returned.

The cups, which are provided by local councils, are washed in the cafes and bakeries that have signed up to the scheme before being reused or redistributed.

Twitter user @josephkmh, who has embraced the move, said: "Today I got the first #FreiburgCup sold at Lienhart. Fits comfortably in your hand!"

Image copyright Twitter

So far 16 outlets have agreed to take part in the "Freiburg Cup" experiment in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, including cafes in the university libraries.

"The cafes and bakeries that participate, as well as the consumers, do not incur any costs," said Freiburg's environmental mayor Gerda Stuchlik.

Germans, like Americans and Italians, are becoming a nation of caffeine addicts and the problem of waste is something relatively new - it did not exist a decade ago.

The move follows an initiative implemented in recent months in the German city of Tubingen. Similar experiments are also taking place in Berlin and Rosenheim.

Why aren't paper coffee cups recyclable?

The average use-time of a disposable cup is short ‒ about 15 minutes ‒ and takeaway drinks often also include plastic lids and straws.

The takeout cups issued at global coffee giants such as Starbucks, Caffe Nero and Costa are currently almost impossible to recycle and contamination is a major cause of concern.

For obvious reasons the cups have to be waterproof. To achieve this the card is fused with polyethylene, a material that cannot easily be separated in a standard recycling mill.

The cups, which are not made from recycled material to begin with, are designed with a thin seam of card inside which comes into contact with the hot drink. As such they have to be made from virgin paper pulp.

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