MPs call for 25p tax on disposable coffee cups

Coffee shops should be made to charge 25 pence for the use of disposable cups say MPs in Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

The chief executive of one of the biggest waste and recycling operations in the United Kingdom has said that while taxes on takeaway coffee cups may provide a helpful nudge to consumers to abandon a throw-away culture, they won't bring about lasting change in isolation.

"Almost none are recycled and half a million a day are littered".

EAC chair Mary Creagh MP said: "Coffee cup producers and distributors have not taken action to rectify this and Government has sat on its hands".

Some coffee shop chains - Starbucks and Costa - had shown initiative in introducing on-site recycling bins for cups, which they then sent to one of three specialist recycling facilities.

Several leading coffee shop chains in Britain, including the largest, Costa, offer discounts for customers who use their own re-usable cups.

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"A "latte levy" of 25p will remind people that their normal coffee cup is typically lined with plastic making it hard to recycle, with more than 99 per cent of them destined for landfill or incineration".

"We think a latte levy will be the kind of charge that will make people think "I need to bring my cup to work today", in the same way that they are moving more and more to reusable plastic bottles".

The UK uses 30,000 tons of coffee cup waste each year.

The committee has called on the government to require coffee cups from cafes without in-store recycling systems to carry "not widely recycled" labels to increase consumer awareness.

"There is no excuse for the ongoing reluctance from government and industry to address coffee cup waste".

Just five retailers have taken up Cropper's cup recycling initiative and the firm has recycled just 10m cups following a target of 500 million a year. It's also been suggested that the cups be phased out, with a full ban by 2023.

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The programme included a move this month to make all ACE UK bring banks accept paper cups for recycling, delivering an additional 415 recycling points located in 105 local authorities across the UK.

However, the difficulties surrounding the recycling of coffee cups are manifold: not only are recycling capabilities limited but the majority of cups go straight into the general waste.

"By singling out disposable cups the committee is, by its own admission, looking for United Kingdom coffee retailers and their cup providers to underwrite the waste management of all packaging used on the go", he said.

"We will investigate the impact of a 5p charge on a paper cup, coupled with prominent marketing of reusable cups, on customer behaviour", it said in a statement posted on its website.

"Only by treating this issue as one that is the responsibility of both industry and consumers will re-use become the norm".

Other measures recommended by the committee include producers paying more for packaging, and improved labelling so consumers know how best to dispose of their cup.

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  • Ryan Wade