UK Government urged to introduce 25p “latte levy” on disposable coffee cups

The UK throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year, enough to circle the planet five and a half times. This is according to a report published last week by the Government.

Environmental audit committee chair, Mary Creagh MP, said: “Almost none are recycled and half a million a day are littered. Coffee cup producers and distributors have not taken action to rectify this and Government has sat on its hands.

“The UK’s coffee shop market is expanding rapidly, so we need to kick start a revolution in recycling. We’re calling for action to reduce the number of single use cups, promote reusable cups over disposable cups and to recycle all coffee cups by 2023.”

The Committee has called on the Government to:

– Introduce a 25p “latte levy” on disposable coffee cups, and use the money raised to improve the UK’s recycling ‘binfrastructure’ and reprocessing facilities.

– Set a target that all disposable coffee cups should be recycled by 2023. If this target is not achieved, the Government should ban disposable coffee cups.

– Make producers pay more for packaging that is difficult to recycle.

– Improve labelling to educate consumers about how best to dispose of their cup.

The Committee is urging that the 25p charge is to be paid for on top of the price of a coffee. The revenue should be used to invest in reprocessing facilities and binfrastructure to ensure that disposable cups and other food and drink packaging is recycled. As the recycling rate for coffee cups improves, the charge could be lowered.

Mary Creagh MP added: “The plastic bag charge is proof that charges are highly effective at reducing packaging waste.”

Almost all disposable coffee cups are incinerated, exported or landfilled. Half a million cups are littered every day, which leads to dirty streets and can also be harmful towards wildlife and our seas.

Producer responsibility

The plastic liner in coffee cups can make them costly to recycle, but businesses supplying and producing them do not bear the full environmental costs of their disposal.

The Committee heard that the UK’s producer responsibility obligations, which aim to make producers financially responsible for the disposal of their packaging, “fail the Ronseal test”. Packaging producers only pay for 10 per cent of the cost of packaging disposal and recycling, leaving taxpayers to pay for the remaining 90 per cent.

The Committee is calling on the Government to adopt a producer responsibility compliance fee structure that rewards design for recyclability and raises charges on packaging that is difficult to recycle.

Labelling: Recyclable but not recycled

The report stated that disposable coffee cups are technically recyclable, but most are not recycled. This is because of the cups’ tightly bonded plastic (polyethylene) liner and the complications of recycling packaging contaminated by food or drink.

The UK only has three recycling facilities that can split out the paper and plastic components of coffee cups for recycling. This results in less than one per cent of coffee cups being recycled. Most people, however, dispose of their coffee cups in recycling bins believing that they will be recycled.

The Committee has called on the Government to require coffee cups from cafes without in-store recycling systems to be printed with “not widely recycled” labels to boost consumer awareness. Cafes with in-store recycling systems should print their cups with “recyclable in-store only.”

Creagh added: “Coffee shops have been sending out mixed messages for years, emphasising that their cups are ‘recyclable’ and staying silent on the fact they are not actually recycled. We’re calling for clearer labelling so people can make informed choices about their use and disposal of coffee cups.”