Over 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are land-filled, littered or incinerated every year. The government's plan is a start—but we can't wait that longby Mary Creagh / January 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
For most of us, the last thing on our mind before our morning caffeine hit is the environmental impact of the cup it is served in. Still, disposable coffee cups are made mostly of cardboard, and so we are probably in the habit of putting them in a recycling bin. We can then head off to work confident that we have done our bit for the planet.
But consumers have had the wool pulled over their eyes. Over 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are land-filled, littered or incinerated every year—a fact the big coffee chains have been keen to hide. Our annual coffee cup waste is enough to stretch around the world five and a half times. Major coffee shop chains have largely been ignoring this mountain of waste while the government has sat on its hands, in the hope that no-one would notice the scale of the problem.
It’s true, some coffee shops offer a discount to customers who bring in their own reusable cups. This perhaps makes it sound like they are doing their bit—but currently just 1 per cent of coffee sales take place in this way. That must change.
This is why the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am chair, has proposed a 25p “latte levy” on disposable coffee cups to kick start consumer awareness of the environmental threat that coffee cups pose.
The 5p plastic bag charge, which has meant we have used nine billion fewer bags since the ban, is proof of the huge environmental success that can come from a levy. Consumer behaviour can change quickly if the government provides an effective nudge in the right direction. A levy, proven to be more effective at prompting behaviour change than a discount, would encourage people to keep a reusable cup at their desk or bring one with them on their commute—reducing the mountain of coffee cup waste in the UK.