Pioneering coffee cup recycling

The Brief

Every day up to seven million coffee cups are thrown away across the UK – that’s 2.5 billion a year, with less than 1% of these recycled.  

Launching in 2017, the Square Mile Challenge campaign was the UK’s first large-scale initiative to tackle coffee cup recycling.   

Hubbub worked with the City of London Corporation, national coffee retailers and paper cup manufacturers to introduce new recycling facilities across the City of London 

Barley was briefed to develop the media strategy, provide creative ideas for the launch and handle media relations. 

Our objectives were to raise awareness of a solution to the issue, drive employers to sign up to workplace recycling and engage people to use the new services with the aim of recycling 500,000 cups in April and 5 million in 2017.   

Insights and Approach

We wanted to present the Square Mile Challenge as the first genuine cross-industry attempt to tackle coffee cup recycling, which could be scaled up across the country.  

In January 2017 we targeted local employers via national consumer media and specialist trade mediaconvincing 36 employers to sign up for workplace recycling (against a target of 30).  

For the launch in April 2017, a city skyline sculpture was created from coffee cups and coffee choir performed outside Liverpool Street station to engage commuters and create a hook for media. Alongside a second push to national media, our focus was on London-based media. 

Barley handled the PR for a new partnership between Hubbub and Starbucks to trial the effect of introducing a 5p disposable cup charge in 35 London stores from April to June 2018 

In October 2018, we piggybacked off the government’s budget announcement, and released a media statement in support of a ‘Latte Levy’ and calling for a better long-term environmental solution to disposable cups.  

The Outcome

For the announcement and launch we achieved 224 pieces of coverage, generating opportunities to see of 307 million in national and London media.  

The public response was overwhelmingly positive and the target of half a million cups in April 2017 was achieved. This had increased to million cups by the end of 2017. 

We achieved a further 627 pieces of coverage with 575 million opportunities to see/hear after piggybacking on the Environmental Audit Committee recommendations, including the ‘Latte Levy’ and announcement of a new partnership with Starbucks.  

The Starbucks trial generated a 150% uplift in the uptake of reusable cups, leading to the 5p charge being rolled out in all Starbucks stores across the UK. 

The success of the Square Mile Challenge led to its replication and scaled up cup recycling in Leeds, Swansea and Edinburgh as part of the ‘Leeds byExample and #InTheLoop city-wide recycling on-the-go campaigns. 



coffee cups recycled in April 2017



coffee cups recycled in 2017


coverage items in total



opportunities to see and hear in total



Twitter impressions at launch



reach on Twitter at launch

Barley Communications made a huge contribution to the success of Square Mile Challenge. The media reach from both the campaign announcement and campaign launch were beyond our expectations. The announcement coverage helped us to generate further sponsorship for the campaign and ensured that we surpassed our target of signing up 30 businesses to the scheme, while the launch coverage was widespread and contributed to us hitting the target of 500,000 cups in April. The Barley team are always proactive, tenacious, professional and very much an extension of the Hubbub team.

Gavin Ellis | Co-Founder, Hubbub