Wigan firm backs coffee cup tax wake-up call

People sit next to a new coffee cup recycling point in London

Some 30,000 tonnes of waste is produced from coffee cups in the United Kingdom every year. The report points out that while a number of large coffee retailers offer a 25p discount to customers bringing their own cups, awareness and uptake has been very low (around 1%) to date.

MPs are calling for a 25p "latte levy" on disposable coffee cups - and a total ban unless recycling improves.

Following an 83 percent reduction in use of plastic carrier bags in 2015, resulting from the 5p charge, charity Friends of the Earth is urging Environment Secretary Michael Gove to ban disposable cups that can not be recycled and force cafe chains to provide recycling bins.

"The U.K. throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year; enough to circle the planet 5½ times", said chair of the committee, Mary Creagh.

"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".

High-street coffee may be ethically sourced, but the British government says the unrecyclable cup it's served in is an environmental scourge.

"There's going to have to be a change to the recipe of the cups to make them degradable". It says that today 1.8% of its customers use reusable cups and that now it costs £1 to buy one from Starbucks.

A charge of 5p on throwaway coffee cups is to be introduced in more than 20 Starbucks outlets to encourage a switch to reusable alternatives.

The Labour MP said coffee shops were beginning to take action, with some announcing discounts for customers that bring in their own cup, but she said the charge was needed to have the more dramatic impact required to solve the problem.

One system created to tackle the problem already exists.

They said the disposable cups that majority used actually had a "shockingly low recycling rate" - less than 1 per cent.

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"We only get one or two of them, as they're so hard to recycle due to their plastic coating, which has to be treated differently", Carol said. In 2016 the company raised the discount to 50p temporarily, but says it "did not move the needle in the way we thought it might".

There is a lot more that can be done though and the parliamentary proposals present a great opportunity for designers, she feels. "Unlike in say Italy, where a small coffee will be drunk quickly in a coffee house from a porcelain cup, in the United Kingdom large coffees are drunk in large cups and dumped into a variety of bins".

She points out that in the United Kingdom, while recycling systems are relatively common place, this doesn't carry on outside the home.

Last year researchers at Cardiff University concluded that charging 25p for every coffee cup would help cut the number used by up to 300 million a year.

While looking like paper, they have a polypropylene plastic lining.

"It would mean that there was an incentive to take a cup back to any coffee shop rather than chuck it in the bin, and it's companies that would rightly bear the burden".

"The onus should not just be on the consumer. We need to reduce the number of cups out there", says Thomas.

Can designers work better with brands and manufacturers?

Mike Turner, of the Paper Cup Alliance, said paper cups were the most sustainable and safe solution for drinks on the go.

Nathan says that Pearlfisher now works with James Cropper, a paper supplier that is able to separate the polythene lining of paper cups from the paper.

But in practice, no conventional paper plant wants them because the lining clogs their mills.

While consumers have been led to believe disposable coffee cups are widely recyclable and recycled, the report pointed to evidence that less than 1% actually get recycled, in part because their plastic liner makes them hard and costly to do so.

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