After two years of negotiations, the US fast-food corporation's UK arm and historic Cumbrian papermaker agreed to trial a new scheme where McDonald's UK makes a separate collection of used cups in its restaurants. These are baled by Simply Cups, the UK’s only paper cup recovery and recycling scheme, before being sold on to James Cropper.
The papermaker said it was the first trial of its kind in the UK.
Currently James Cropper recycles more than 10 million paper cups per week at its £5m reclaimed fibre plant, which was opened by the Queen in 2013. The plant separates the plastic in the cups from the fibre, so it can be used in the company's finest papers. But the cups are not post-consumer waste; the material is waste from the cup manufacturing process.
According to the papermaker, it is difficult to source suitable used cups as they are typically disposed of with other waste, often away from the point of purchase. And because the cups are polyethylene-coated they are not conventionally recyclable.
Now McDonald's has installed new collection stations in around 150 of its 1,250 UK restaurants, with more to come.
James Cropper will see increased deliveries of the baled cup paper each month as the roll-out occurs.
Quality and manufacturing technology manager Steve Oxley said that depending on the rate of capture of cups in the restaurants, the company could recycle anything from 30 million to 100 million cups over the next 12 months.
“We have to run extended trials with different paper grades but it is expected that the recovered fibres will be suitable to use, in varying addition rates, in most of our regular paper grades.”
Market development manager at James Cropper Richard Burnett said the company was seeing an increased demand for eco-friendly products such as luxury shopping bags.
“The partnership with McDonald’s signifies an important next step in recycling used paper cups and, ultimately, reducing waste going to landfill,” he said.
Paper cups make up nearly a third of all McDonald’s packaging waste.
Helen McFarlane, sustainability consultant at McDonald’s UK added: “We’re eager to see what this trial with James Cropper and Simply Cups will look like, hopefully helping set up the infrastructure for others to use in future.”