According to some estimates fewer than 1% of the 2.5 billion paper and plastic cups used in the UK each year are recycled, leading to criticism of high street cafes for stamping them with recycling logos.
While some of the leading chains say they work to make recycling cups easier and even offer incentive schemes to encourage consumers to use their own, there are calls for big brands to take greater responsibility for the waste.
Television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose £wastenot campaign has gathered more than 300,000 supporters, said: “It’s time for our biggest coffee shops to come clean.
Disposable coffee cups pose a challenge to recycling plants due to the combination of plastic and paper in their design.
There are just two specialist facilities in the UK, both in the North, that have the equipment to separate the materials.
Peter Goodwin, co-founder of Simply Cups, the sites’ operator, told The Times he expects them to recycle six million cups in 2016 – fewer than the number produced each day.
He said: “It’s dramatically less than 1% but no-one knows this.
“The consumer has trust in the brand that if they put a recycling sign on the cup then the product is being recycled. People are being misled.”