The partnership with recycling group Simply Cups will see special collection bins rolled out in 200 7-Eleven stores and 50 larger locations such as universities and construction sites from March next year.
The bins will accept all takeaway coffee and Slurpee cups, which due to their waterproof polyethylene lining are unable to be processed at regular paper recycling plants — a fact not widely known by consumers.
7-Eleven, the nation’s second largest coffee chain behind McDonald’s, hopes the initiative will save at least 70 million cups a year going to landfill.
“We’ve been looking for quite a while, very conscious of our growing volumes, but we haven’t been able to find the right solution which is not just practical but economic for the consumer,” 7-Eleven chief executive Angus McKay said.
He added the cost of the new recycling initiative would not be passed onto customers. “Our coffee today is very reasonably priced at $1, $2 or $3 and will remain that way,” he said. “There is an investment we’re having to make, we’re underwriting that.”
Mr McKay said the company “felt we had responsibility to take the lead”. “We’re happy to accept cups from competitors and other players,” he said. “We urge our competitors to get on board.”
According to Simply Cups, all disposable cups currently go to landfill, equating to 10,000 tonnes of waste every year, consisting of 9400 tonnes of paper and 600 tonnes of polyethylene. Coffee cups are estimated to be the second-largest contributor to litter waste after plastic bottles.
“Simply Cups now has access to technology that removes the plastic lining from paper-based cups so that both materials can then be processed in regular paper and plastic recycling facilities,” Simply Cups founder Rob Pascoe said in a statement.
“By collecting takeaway cups via a separate waste stream, Simply Cups can guarantee that cups collected through the dedicated 7-Eleven bins will be recycled. I’m really excited to be partnering with 7-Eleven to help solve one of Australia’s biggest waste problems.”
7-Eleven, still recovering from last year’s massive wage theft scandal, is facing growing pressure in the competitive cheap coffee market from the likes of Woolworths and Coles, which recently launched 80-cent coffee through its Coles Express convenience chain.
The majors have also been leveraging their scale to roll out supermarket-quality fresh food to small-format convenience and petrol locations, forcing 7-Eleven to follow suit.
“Our focus [moving forward] is on pure convenience and specifically within that, the fresh food part of convenience,” Mr McKay said. “We’ve got a thriving sandwich business, an emerging sushi business, salads, muffins, pastries, all on-the-go fresh products.”
He welcomed the increased focus on convenience from Coles and Woolworths. “Coles and Woolies, all those guys are good competitors, but we’ve got a very unique offer relative to them,” he said.
“Our customers have a very well defined sense of value, which I think we cater for well. We are the largest and fastest-growing convenience business in the country. Right now I think we’re doing a good job. The more our competitors enhance the image of convenience, the better it is for the whole industry.”