Coffee chains still don't have the process down, leading to phenomenal waste.
Coffee Cup
Credit: © amana images inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Recycling paper cups is easy, right? If you see the three-arrows-daisy-chained symbol, then you just toss the cup into the properly labelled receptacle. Theoretically, yes.

The UK-based Times reports that "fewer than one in 400 paper cups" offered at coffee chains are actually being recycled. The paper accuses companies like Starbucks, Costa, Caffè Nero and Pret A Manger of making claims about recycling "which result in people falsely believing that their cups are environmentally friendly."

All of that paper adds up: British people drink through seven million paper cups every day—more than 2.5 billion cups a year. It's not the consumer's fault; many of the cups have the words "100 percent recyclable" or "100 percent recycled" on them.

The key problem lies in the fact that these cups must go to special recycling facilities that can remove the plastic laminate from the exterior of the cup. And in the UK, there is only company that does this—Simply Cups—and they only have two locations (Kendal and Halifax). What's more, they processed a total of only 3 million cups last year. Even though they expect to double that number in 2016, that still leaves billions of cups in recycling purgatory.

Starbucks's website points the finger at the vague notion of a less-than-evolved community infrastructure:

"Some communities already recycle our paper and plastic cups, but due to a traditional lack of demand for cup material by the recycling industry, many don't have the infrastructure in place to handle collection, hauling and processing."

Stores and landlords, according to Starbucks, are also to blame:

"For stores operating out of leased spaces, recycling is also dependent upon landlords who control waste collection and recycling. With more than 17,000 retail locations globally, conditions vary from city to city and from store to store – making it a challenge for us to efficiently and effectively implement uniform recycling strategies."

Representatives from Costa, Pret a Manger, and Starbucks all said they are working on finding ways to handle current recycling needs. For now, if you really want to save the planet, bring your own mug.

[h/t to Munchies]