MPs propose 25p latte levy on disposable cups

The Commons environmental audit committee (EAC) has called for a 25p charge on single-use coffee cups. Consumers should pay the levy, with the revenue used to help local councils provide food packaging recycling bins and waste management.

The EAC said charging is a more effective way to encourage people to use reusable cups than schemes offering discounts. Customers bringing their own cups get 25p off in Costa and Starbucks, but no more than 2% are aware of the offer.

This week Pret A Manger has doubled its discount from 25p to 50p to “help change habits”. Of the 5,000 people who responded to CEO Clive Schlee when he floated the idea last month, 96% were in favour.

Eunomia Research and Consulting have estimated that a “latte levy” of 25p would lead to a 30% reduction in the use of disposable cups, generating £438 million.

The committee also urged the government to set a target for all disposable cups to be recycled by 2023. If the target isn’t met the cups should be banned. Currently, 2.5 billion single-use cups are thrown away every year, and just one in every 400 are recycled.

Indeed, commitments made by the industry, including the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group, are “inconsistent, and lack quantifiable targets and structure”, the EAC concluded.

PCRRG was set up in June 2016, in the wake of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste series on BBC One. The group has published a manifesto and an update published in September 2017 showed recycling points for cups had improved. With a new large-scale recycling facility in place, recycling will “increase fast” in 2018, said the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) this week.

However, MPs remain impressed. “When we heard evidence from Neil Whittall [from] PCRRG and Martin Kersh [from the Foodservice Packaging Association] FPA, it became clear that the Paper Cup Manifesto does not include a quantitative target for an improved recycling rate for coffee cups, rather it has a target for “access to” coffee cup recycling facilities.”

They also said key retailers had ignored their requests for evidence. Of the six major players only Starbucks and Costa Coffee provided information; Caffè Nero, Tesco, Morrisons and Pret A Manger did not respond “despite attempts to engage with them. Their silence speaks volumes,” the committee noted.

The EAC chair Mary Creagh also called on government to make producers bear more of the financial burden to help recycle their packaging. Paper cups are notoriously difficult to recycle given the thin layer of plastic lining on the inside.

“My Committee is calling for producer responsibility reform that rewards businesses that use sustainable packagingand makes those that don’t face higher charges,” said Creagh.

FPA welcomed the call to reform the producer responsibility charges, currently run through the Packaging Recovery Note system. However, it said the focus should be on the producer paying rather than consumer paying (through the latte levy).

No targets should be set until the PRN system is reformed and there’s a better idea of what new infrastructure will be in place to improve collection and recycling, said FPA’s Martin Kersh. Reaching 100% recycling of any type of packaging is also “impossible”, he added.

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