Last month, the Government rejected calls to introduce what’s being called a ‘Latte levy’, a 25p tax on disposable coffee cups, to try and address our throwaway culture at the same time as funding greater recycling.
This is a shame because the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags has had an incredible effect. According to Friends of the Earth, plastic bag use has dropped by 85% since the charges came in. The same measures would make a massive dent on the estimated 2.5 billion disposable cups we throw away every year.
Whilst the cups are made of cardboard, the difficulty is that they are coated with a plastic. Manufacturers and retailers say they are recyclable, but the problem is that there are only three centres that deal with coffee cup recycling in the whole of the UK. This means the majority are going to landfill where they will take hundreds of years to break down.
Retailers are leading the way
Thankfully, where the Government isn’t leading, the retailers are. Waitrose has just announced it’s going to help reduce the amount of waste customers produce by getting rid of takeaway coffee cups altogether from the autumn. Customers wanting to take advantage of a free tea or coffee will have to provide their own reusable cups. The company estimates this will amount to a saving of 52 million cups a year equating to 221 tonnes of plastic and 665 tonnes of paper being saved from landfill.
At the beginning of the year Pret A Manger doubled the discount it gives to people who use their own recyclable cups to 50p. Like many other coffee chains, the brand has been offering 25p discounts but decided to double it to make recycling even more attractive.
On the other hand, Eat’s takeaway cups are 100% biodegradable which means they can be added to compost heaps, reducing their environmental impact.
The food retailer Iceland has been seen to do the most in light of what’s become known as the ‘Blue Planet Effect’, by announcing it will eliminate plastics on own-brand products, and it has already stopped using plastic drinking straws on own-brand products.
David Attenborough has even had an effect on the Queen, who is phasing out single-use plastics at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. So whilst the Latte Levy on first line fell at the first hurdle, the race to reduce the use of plastic is well underway.