Starbucks trials 5p charge on disposable cups

A Veolia paper cup recycling point

Coffee shops should be made to charge 25 pence for the use of disposable cups say MPs in Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC). With that in mind, the committee has also asked that the government force coffee shops to label cups to inform consumers that they're not widely recycled.

While the Irish government has already proposed a charge on disposable coffee cups, and Bristol City Council recently voted to charge for cups in all its buildings, United Kingdom officials have so far been loathe to commit to a similar scheme, with Resources Minister Therese Coffey commenting in November that voluntary action was already being taken within the industry (for instance, Starbucks offer a 25 pence discount for using a disposable cup).

Committee chair Mary Creagh said: "The UK throws away 2.5bn disposable coffee cups every year; enough to circle the planet five and a half times".

The second full report from the EAC's inquiry into the effects of disposable drinks packaging, released today (5 January), calls for the government to introduce legislation similar to the plastic bag charge in order to bring the UK's use of disposable coffee cups under control.

On Friday Starbucks said that it would start a three-month trial of a 5p paper cup charge in up to 25 London shops from next month.

"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". But, the problem is: the plastic lining "can't be removed by most recycling facilities". "Disposable coffee cups are an avoidable waste problem and if the United Kingdom can not be confident of their future sustainability, the government should ban them".

The report sheds light on the UK's growing love affair with coffee, and the resultant impact on coffee cup use.

Richard Burnett, from James Cropper, one of only three companies that recycles coffee cups, supported the 25p charge if the money is used to support the infrastructure to recycle them. "Nearly none are recycled and half a million a day are littered".

"The government should set a target for all disposable coffee cups to be recycled by 2023", she said.

This week, Pret doubled the discount offered to customers who bring in a reusable coffee cup from 25p to 50p.

The last decade has brought about an explosion in the United Kingdom café culture, as the traditional English cup of tea has succumbed to its roasted rival, with the milky latte taking top spot as the nation's most popular takeaway hot drink, served in paper cups laminated with a plastic sheeting, which waterproof the containers and stop hot drinks leaking onto customer's hands.

The tax would reduce in line with improved recycling rates for coffee cups. "Only by treating this issue as one that is the responsibility of both industry and consumers will reuse become the norm in place of single-use and throw away".

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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