The Plastics Problem: Make the switch - cups

A plastic cup takes around 50-80 years to decompose, according to Conserve Energy Future.

Read here how the elimination of plastic-lined coffee cups by the QEII Centre in London alone has saved 104,000 single-use plastic-lined cups being destined for landfill each year and helped the venue make great strides as part of its #20PercentLess pledge to eliminate single-use plastics from its business by 2025.

In January 2018 the venue’s in-house caterers, QEII Taste, replaced plastic-lined coffee cups used for hot drinks served at its ground-floor coffee lounge The Sanctuary, with reusable china cups.

“We are not a take-away coffee shop, so there is no need to be giving guests disposable cups when they will be remaining in the building and can easily use a china mug. The idea has gone down well with our clients and staff respectively,” explains Jason Dignam, QEII Taste general manager.

Though they are made largely of paper, disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic polyethylene that is tightly bonded to the paper making the cups waterproof and able to contain liquid.

The difficulty of recycling coffee cups is further increased because they are contaminated with drink, so they cannot be recycled at standard recycling plants, and must instead be taken to special facilities – only three of which exist in the UK. So, the reality is less than one per cent of coffee cups are recycled.

Crucially, the QEII’s switch means that approximately 104,000 single-use plastic-lined cups are not destined for landfill each year and provides ongoing cost savings.

Water offered to delegates in the centre’s conference rooms has been served in reusable glass bottles and glasses since the QEII Centre installed a Vivreau water system in 2014.

However, elsewhere within the venue, water was available to buy in single-use plastic bottles and staff drank from disposable plastic cups placed at office water coolers.

In September 2018, the centre removed single-use plastic bottles from circulation and replaced them with water in aluminium cans for guests to buy. Discarded cans are collected and sent to recycling.

“Once we discovered there was an option to offer a product that was completely recyclable as opposed to a plastic bottle we were keen to offer this to our guests,” says Dignam. “We were also impressed by a can that is re-sealable so you are able to carry in your bag once opened as you would with the plastic bottle.”

Finally, two months’ later, staff were issued with reusable water bottles which meant that plastic cups could be removed from water coolers.

“The reaction has been positive. Staff are keen to use the bottles and we have had requests for more,” says Dignam. “We are also no longer having to buy plastic cups to use in the staff canteen which is helping to reduce costs.”

The drive to cut single-use plastics from the business is part of wider efforts to act more sustainably. The company works with charity Wrap Up London to repurpose clothing and donates furniture to local charities and electricals to local theatre groups and schools.

Top tips:

  • Take one step at a time. The QEII Centre’s efforts to reduce single-use plastic from the business has been done one step at a time, waiting to see what impact each act had before making the next one. “Small steps can have the biggest impact, don’t try and change everything in a day.”
  • Review new products. New products are coming to market all the time so it is worth taking time to see what may be appropriate for your business. “Once we discovered there was an option to offer a product that was completely recyclable as opposed to a plastic bottle we were keen to offer this to our guests.”
  • Engage everyone in change. Remember, most people are keen to reduce their impact on the environment, so don’t be afraid to share changes with them to get everyone behind your cause. “The centre has found the changes to be rather easy and because of social changes we’ve had little resistance from clients and delegates and often they’re impressed we’re making the change. Staff within the centre have also fully backed and endorsed the changes.”

How QEII is cutting out single-use plastics:

  • Replacing plastic-lined coffee cups with reusable china cups, saving 104,000 single-use cups every year from going to landfill
  • Installing a Vivreau water system in 2014 so water in conference rooms can be served in reusable glass bottles and glasses
  • Switching from plastic water bottles to resealable aluminum cans in the café
  • Providing all staff with reusable water bottles