MPs in the UK have proposed a new tax on disposable coffee cups, which they say would improve recycling and reduce waste.
A report by the government’s Environmental Audit Committee has proposed a levy of £0.25 (~€0.28) per cup, to encourage customers to use reusable drinkware for takeaway drinks, and to support efforts to recycle disposable coffee cups.
The plastic lining used in most disposable coffee cups makes them expensive to recycle, because elements must be separated first; in some areas, they are not recycled at all because of the prohibitive cost. The MPs propose that the additional funds generated by a coffee cup levy should be directed towards improving recycling facilities under their plan. If the level of recycling of cups does not increase dramatically following the introduction of the levy, the report also recommends that the cups be banned outright by 2023.
How effective would such a levy be at incentivising customers to recycle?
Some coffee chains currently offer a discount for customers who bring their own reusable drinkware, but according to the report only 1-2% of customers take advantage of this offer. Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh MP told the BBC: “The UK throws away 2.5bn disposable coffee cups every year – that’s enough to circle the planet five and a half times … 500,000 per day are littered.”
In light of the fact that the UK’s coffee shop market is rapidly expanding, Creagh said that a “revolution in recycling” would be needed to combat the growing problem. However, the tax has been opposed by paper cup manufacturers, and the Paper Cup Alliance has argued that the UK’s paper cups are already sustainably sourced and recycled at a number of facilities around the countries. It suggested that the tax will hurt consumers while not necessarily addressing the core of the problem.
The UK government will now seek evidence on the impact a tax on single-use plastics would have on consumers and recycling efforts.