Green or Green-washed? That is the Question
Many of us are back out and about, and back into the swing of grabbing our takeaway coffees again. That means the number of takeaway coffee cups going to straight to landfill is back on the rise – a paltry 0.25% of cups currently get recycled.
The best way to stop this? Get a reusable and use it! Sadly, a lot of reusables are not sustainably produced using virgin plastic and steel and often making claims that seem too good to be true.
I chatted to Alastair Nightingale of the Loving Co ahead of World Refill Day – and found ourselves in agreement that they are selling the UK’s best refillable cup, made in the UK from plastic cups. Alistair has also done a deep dive into whether the leading reusables on the market are Green or Greenwashed.
Q: Before we dive in can you tell us a little more about The Loving Co?
A: Yes of course – we are a tiny little business with a big idea and a big heart. We want to stop single use waste and simultaneously generate desperately needed funds to help end homelessness in the UK. We’re starting with the UK’s best reusable coffee cup (as per The Independent’s reviews!) which we retail at £13 and £3 of that goes to Shelter UK via the Work for Good donation platform.
Q: So why are you looking into which cups are the most sustainable?
A: Well, when we set out to create our products, we didn’t it feel it made sense to stop single use coffee cup waste by using products that might be utilising virgin plastic or were manufactured in ways that generated an enormous carbon footprint. For us it just made sense that if you want to do something loving then you have to make that a principle throughout the entire end to end sourcing process.
Our point of view was also magnified by our experiences trying to source a product from China. We spent several months looking for a supplier that would make a cup from a plant derived plastic but the honest truth is we couldn’t ever get a straight answer and be assured that what we were being told was true! It unnerved us and so we focused our search back here in the UK and found Circular & Co who have made a cup that utilises waste coffee cups and has been designed to last 10 years and be 100% recycled at the end of its life. It’s about as sustainable its possible to get. Oh and its made in Cornwall – no air miles!
Q: So, give us an overview – what did you look for?
A: We created a list of criteria – where is the cup made? Is it locally sourced or Made in China? How far does it travel to get to you? What is it made of? Is it sustainable? Are their claims credible? Can it be easily recycled? Like from your kerbside collection? Does it become waste just like a paper cup or can it have further life? Does the brand help others? Is there a bigger purpose? We ended up with a 5 point score.
Q: So what were the results?
A: Well we’re pleased to say that our cup came out on top with 5 out of 5, which isn’t surprising given what I’ve already told you. Because it’s made here in the UK its carbon footprint is miniscule in comparison to those that are shipped in from the East and it’s a genuinely circular product – the materials can be used and re-used. We also give an enormous chunk of our revenue away which simply no one else is even getting close to.
Q: So, what about the big guys like Keep Cup, Chilli’s and the bamboo ones we hear so much about?
A: Keep Cup are second with 4/5 which is down to the fact that its made in China and that tempered glass is rarely recycled in the UK. They do pretty well other than that but only give 1% of revenue to charities. Chilli’s were scored at 2.5/5. Using steel isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s rarely recyclable from kerbside so most people chuck them out once they’re dinted or they lose the lid and if you don’t take it to a recycling centre then who knows where it will end up? They also manufacture in China and we couldn’t find any evidence of them donating to good causes.
I’ll share the overall table of results (at the foot of this interview) with you so that your followers can take a look in more detail – we also covered off e-coffee cups and Huski.
Q: So why didn’t the bamboo ones perform well?
A: Well, and this is where it gets controversial – that’s because most of them are not telling the truth about what they are made of! It’s not just my opinion, there’s a great EU report which spells it out.
The vast majority of these ‘Bamboo cups’ are made in China and typically state that they are made solely from Bamboo’ however independent testing shows routinely that most include 40-60% Melamine.
What actually happens is that bamboo powder is used as a filler and mixed with plastic. This not only makes them non-recyclable but also can also accelerate the degradation of the plastic which can lead to substances migrating from the plastic into your drink. We haven’t seen any generic bamboo cup brand connect themselves to a cause. Now you know why they are so cheap!
Q: Were you surprised at how much greenwashing is going on?
A: Not really, as I said we spent a lot of time working with sourcing agents out of Hong Kong and asking searching questions and never quite got the right answer so that was always going to be a reality. What does surprise me is that no one else is investing in true circularity – we see biodegradable paper cups which require local collection and a distinct process of disposal and we see these global brands using glass and stainless steel but its only Circular & Co that are really trying to build a product that can be repurposed – and just by recycling it from the kerb. That’s testament to their brilliant design and exactly why we chose to work with their product.
So there you have it, this is absolutely my favourite reusable cup design, I’ve long been a fan of Circular & Co, way back when they were previously known As rCUP. I met Dan Dicker, the founder, many years ago at a product show where I was speaking on behalf of a client at the time, Fairtrade furniture brand Myakka, and have been following their progress ever since, I’m their original loyal fan!
So it absolutely delights me to share Alistair’s research, and the work they are now doing to support Shelter UK by selling the World’s BEST, and first Reusable, 100% Leak Proof Coffee Cup Made From Recycled Cups.