High street coffee chains have been accused of making false claims about how many paper cups they recycle, with less than one in 400 paper coffee cups being recycled, despite many carrying the recycling logo.

Simply Cups, Britain’s only paper cup recycling service, said coffee cups needed to be sent to specialist recycling facilities, where the plastic used to laminate the paper is removed, but less than 3m were recycled last year.

Peter Goodwin, the company’s co-founder, said Britain’s major coffee shops recycle “dramatically less than 1%” of their cups.

About 7m paper coffee cups are used in Britain each day, which is 2.5bn a year. But campaigners have said that Starbucks, Costa, Caffè Nero and Pret A Manger mislead customers about how environmentally friendly they are.

Cups from Costa carry the recycling symbol of three arrows in a continuous loop. The Starbucks website reads: “We have set a goal to make 100% of our cups reusable or recyclable by 2015.”

Cardboard sleeves issued with Caffè Nero and Pret cups carry a recycling symbol. Pret’s sleeves say “100% recyclable”, and Caffè Nero’s say “100 % recycled”. Campaigners say this may lead customers to believe that the whole cup can be recycled, rather than just the sleeve.

Unable to say

Starbucks was unable to say how many of its cups were recycled. It gives people a 25p discount if they bring their own cups, though it is unclear how many of its customers take up that offer.

Costa said it was “researching how best to work with the waste industry to ensure our 100% recyclable cups are being recycled effectively”.

Pret said: “Most of our coffee cups are disposed of outside of our shops and we are working with other companies within the industry to find ways to improve the recovery and recycling rates of takeaway cups.”