Coffee shops have been slammed by consumer watchdogs after it emerged that disposable cups are causing a recycling nightmare.
The 2.5 billion synthetic cups thrown away in Britain every year are made from a mixture of materials which prevents them from being recycled alongside paper and cardboard.
The report by Which? found that eight in ten people are confused about throwing away disposable coffee cups and they think they can put them in paper recycling bins.
But the consumer magazine says that putting a cup in with newspapers and junk mail means it is likely to be rejected at the recycling plant and diverted to landfill anyway.
The problem is believed to be caused in part by the extra cost incurred in separating the synthetic coffee cups from other materials.
The environmental impact is pushed up further because the cups are forced to go to landfill sites.
A report in Which? stated: 'One container for paper - another container for plastics.
'Recycling your old newspapers and wine bottles has never been easier - until you get to the many items that come encased in a mix of materials such as cardboard and polyethylene.
'Take disposable cups from coffee shops - the UK's thirst for grabbing a hot drink on the go means an estimated 2.5 billion paper cups are thrown away every year. If put side by side they would stretch round the globe five and a half times.
'More than half of people we asked, and who buy takeaway drinks, dispose of their paper cups in the general waste bin.'
Disposable cups are mostly made of cardboard - about 95per cent by weight - but also contain about 5per cent polyethylene in the form of a thin coating inside the cup.
More than half of the 2,471 people surveyed admitted that they put the cups in the general waste bin.
David Powlson, principal at Poyry Management Consulting and expert in paper recycling, told the magazine: 'This is great for keeping your coffee warm and the cup from getting soggy, but not so great when you come to realise that most UK paper mills are unable to process paper mixed with other materials.'
Now Which? is calling for more clarity for consumers on what mixed-material items can be recycled in which recycling bins or facilities.
The report added: 'Ideally it should be made possible to recycle paper cups alongside cartons.'
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