Two and a half billion takeaway coffee cups are used every year in the UK and virtually none are recycled. Rory Tingle talks to Martin Myerscough, inventor of the world’s first fully recyclable paper cup
The Good Business column catches up with people who are leading social change. It is created in collaboration with Impact Hub Islington, a co-working and business incubation space in London for socially minded entrepreneurs.
Rory: Martin, what makes Green Your Cup unique?
Martin: A normal disposable coffee cup is made by getting a piece of cheap cardboard and lining it with plastic to stop it from leaking. But because the film is bonded so strongly to the cardboard, when it goes to a recycling mill it won’t separate. We’ve done it the other way around – first we made the cup then put the plastic in afterwards. So when it goes to the paper mills the plastic will separate in the recycling process, and the cardboard goes through the filters to be used again.
Where did you get the idea and how did you develop it?
We have been working on it for a couple of years. I am at a company called 3 Boys which specialises in packaging innovation. We were working on a whole series of things which the coffee companies want, but getting frustrated because we could not make a lot of headway with the cup-makers. So, we decided to set up a pop-up coffee store in London, which CNN picked up on and millions of people saw the clip. As a result we have got two or three of the big coffee companies and all the big cup makers talking to us. So it served its purpose, which was to stir up a bit of trouble.
So the big chains are now interested?
Yes, the brands that you would expect to be more environmentally conscious. What we are looking for is for one of the challenger brands to start with it, then that will force the other chains to adopt it. I think the challenge is that the consumer wants to be green but doesn’t want to pay more. The aim is to make the products that you develop cheaper than the existing products so that the coffee chains think that it’s cheaper and it’s green so will have it. If it’s green but more expensive they start to drag their heels a bit.
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What advice would you give to other eco-entrepreneurs?
I basically just have ideas – the only thing that makes me different from other people is that I go and do them. The big retailers aren’t really commissioning a lot on this, but if you walk up to them with an idea that is all informed and formulated then they will like that. There is a lot of packaging out there that isn’t recyclable – expanded polystyrene is another one, none of that can be recycled, it’s very bulky to send to landfill and can’t be burned because it gives off noxious fumes. Everyone is desperate for a solution – if we can come up with something that could be a real cracker.
What are your ambitions over the next few years?
I have no idea, everybody asks me about that. We are hoping to get our cups on the high street by next year. The fun of this is that you come up with an idea which you think is interesting. Then you go on the internet to find whether anyone else has thought of it. Then when you finally get round to it you set up a pop-up store and all the press turn up then you think: ‘Oh, that is quite good, I must have been right.’