UK lawmakers have called on the government to introduce a 25p levy on takeaway coffee cups in a move that could see the cups banned in five years.
With the UK throwing away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups a year, the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) has put forward a levy on the cups, with the money raised used to improve the country’s recycling infrastructure.
The EAC said that although some coffee shops provide discounts for customers who bring their own cups, uptake of these offers is low at only 1-2% of coffee purchases.
The committee noted the impact on consumer behaviour of the plastic bag charge (which reduced plastic bag usage by over 83% in the first year after it was introduced), and concluded that consumers are more responsive to a charge than a discount.
It is urging the government to introduce a 25p charge on disposable cups, to be paid for on top of the price of a coffee. If this target is not achieved, it proposes the complete ban of disposable coffee cups.
EAC chair Mary Creagh MP said: “The UK throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year; enough to circle the planet five and a half times. 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.”
The committee said that industry action to paper cup recycling has been voluntary, non-committal and slow, with producers paying for “10% of the cost of packaging disposal and recycling, leaving taxpayers to pay for the remaining 90%”.
It is also 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.
Creagh added: “Taxpayers are footing the bill for disposing of the billions of coffee cups thrown away each year, whether or not they are coffee drinkers.
“It is only right that producers should bear more of the financial burden to help recycle their packaging, so my committee is calling for producer responsibility reform that rewards businesses that use sustainable packaging – and makes those that don’t face higher charges.”
In 2016, the UK’s largest coffee shop brand Costa launched a recycling scheme in 2,000 of its stores in a bid to recover and convert its takeaway cups.
Customers have been encouraged to leave or return their takeaway cups to a Costa store where they have been collected by the company’s waste partner, Veolia, to be recycled.
In the same year, paper cup manufacturer James Cropper launched a trial recycling scheme with McDonald’s which has allowed the fast food chain’s paper cups to be recycled at James Cropper’s reclaimed fibre plant, allowing it turn previously non-recyclable, plastic-coated paper cups into new paper products.
Efforts have been made to tackle the environmental impact of coffee cups. Frugalpac developed recyclable paperboard coffee cups made from recycled paper that can be included in domestic waste recycling streams.
Meanwhile, Nextek formulated a resin made from whole coffee cups that can be moulded into a number of strong and durable products.
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