The show challenged some of the claims made by high-street coffee chains regarding recycling and waste.
Targeting Costa Coffee, Fearnley-Whittingstall discussed the chain’s dubious claims that it recycles its cups all over the country.
Fearnley-Whittingstall said in the documentary: “There is one facility in the north of England (James Cropper’s) that has a special process to recycle these kind of plastic cups but they told me this is at a trial stage and the truth is only a tiny number of used cups ever actually get here.
“Costa are sending less than 1% of their cups and in fact 1% is a super-generous estimate of the maximum they are sending. I happen to think it is way less than that.”
James Cropper’s £5m-Cumbrian reclaimed fibre plant was opened by the Queen in 2013 and has technology capable of recycling millions of disposable coffee cups into paper for luxury brands. It separates plastic from pulp in the cups leaving the pulp for use in high-quality paper. It recycles more than 10 million cups a week.
In February, James Cropper signed a deal and began a trial with McDonalds to recycle 100 million coffee cups a year and turn them into paper. McDonalds has installed collection stations in 150 of its 1,250 restaurants for empty coffee cups to be sent to the plant.
A spokesperson from James Cropper said: “The post-consumer waste project is in its early stages and a number of trials are being run to monitor and assess the quality of the incoming material.
"As a member of the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group (PCRRG), we’re working closely with organisations across the entire paper cup supply chain to secure workable and sustainable solutions to reclaim the high-quality fibre in used paper cups.”
In order to make takeaway coffee cups waterproof, companies fuse them with polyethylene, a material that cannot be separated in a standard recycling mill, hence making recycling impossible.
According to Fearnley-Whittingstall, hardly any of the 2.5 billion coffee cups thrown away a year are recycled, even though many people put them in recycling bins thinking they can be.
In James Cropper’s plant, 90% of cup waste is converted into FSC certified fibre for paper production and upcycled into James Cropper’s range of coffee papers, with the other 10% being repurposed for items such as garden furniture.
Costa managing director James Cotta told the BBC: "Costa's takeaway cups and lids are recyclable, as evident in our partnerships with James Cropper, who recycle our cups. We do, however, agree that not enough takeaway cups are recovered and recycled and it is right that the industry as a whole is challenged to confront this issue.”
Starbucks is also undertaking a similar trial, with waste management supplier Veolia.
James Cropper recently posted strong annual growth, despite the flooding damage caused by Storm Desmond on its Burnside, Cumbria site.