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From disposable cups to Selfridges bags

Posted on 20 September 2018.

In the UK, Selfridges, Veolia and James Cropper team up to upcycle used disposable cups and turn them into shopping bags.

One 250 ml disposable cup goes to make the paper for one large shopping bag! And at the end of its life the bag can be recycled in a standard paper recycling process.

In the UK, 2.5 billion paper cups go into the trashcan each year, and only 1 cup in 400 is recycled, in part because of their composition - a mixture of paper and polyethylene. A very low recycling rate that Veolia is determined to improve.

In June 2017, the Group launched a nationwide customized collection service so public and private sector establishments could send their cups to a specialist processing plant.

The same inspiration was behind Veolia’s new partnership with Selfridges and James Cropper. The three partners upcycle - meaning recycling to create a product of higher quality or value - the disposable cups used in the shops and offices of the British department store chain to turn them into high quality paper to make the bags distributed at the checkout.

Iconic yellow bag

This golden yellow bag, so characteristic of London’s Oxford Street department store, is well known to English shoppers. It has been on the streets of the British capital, Birmingham and Manchester for over a hundred years. Today, Selfridges is the second largest department store chain in the UK. It has four stores in England, employs several thousand people and welcomes millions of customers every year. Customers and employees consume huge quantities of hot drinks served in disposable paper cups.

The problem with these cups is that they are not easy to recycle because it is difficult to separate the paper from its polyethylene coating - a type of plastic. And the great shame is that the fibers used are of excellent quality. This is where James Cropper comes in. The English paper manufacturer has a plant - opened in 2013 by Queen Elizabeth herself – that is the first able to separate the two components. The paper fiber is recovered and upcycled to make high quality paper and the polyethylene is reprocessed.

Empty cups from Selfridges' head office on Oxford Street, and from its catering facilities, are collected and sorted by Veolia. The Group ensures that they no longer contain liquid and separates the lids and cardboard rings from the cups. After several checks, the waste is packed in bales and sent to James Cropper's CupCycling plant.

The plant produces products containing 20% recycled fiber - one large yellow bag contains fiber from one 250 ml cup. And at the end of its life the bag can be recycled just like any other paper.