MPs call for 25p ‘latte levy’ on disposable coffee cups

Some coffee chains, including Costa, have introduced discounts for customers who bring their own cups to be filled. Picture: PA
Some coffee chains, including Costa, have introduced discounts for customers who bring their own cups to be filled. Picture: PA
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Coffee drinkers could be hit with a 25p “latte levy” if they buy their favourite brew in a throwaway cup, under new recommendations put forward by MPs.

A Westminster committee is calling on the government to introduce a 25p tax on disposable coffee cups – and for all coffee cups to be recycled by 2023.

The Environmental Audit Committee’s report, Disposable packaging: Coffee Cups, will say that the 25p charge on disposable cups – to be paid on top of the price of a coffee – should be used to invest in reprocessing facilities and infrastructure to ensure cups and other food and drink packaging is recycled.

British coffee drinkers get through 10,000 disposable cups every two minutes – more than seven million a day, or 2.5 billion a year.

Environmental audit committee chairwoman Mary Creagh said: “The UK throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year; enough to circle the planet five and a half times. 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. We’re calling for action to reduce the number of single use cups, promote ­reusable cups over disposable cups and to recycle all coffee cups by 2023.”

Some coffee chains, including Costa and Pret a Manger, have introduced discounts for customers who bring their own cups to be filled. But the report said that the move was not going far enough and was not effective.

Ms Creagh added: “A reusable cup is one of the easiest ways to reduce cup waste, but the discounts offered by coffee companies are ineffective. The plastic bag charge is proof that charges are highly effective at reducing packaging waste. We urge the government to introduce a 25p charge on disposable cups.”

Environmental campaigners have recently stepped up the fight against waste plastics, which are blighting marine life. Recent moves have included a ban on plastic drinking straws by Ullapool – the first place in the UK to do so – as well as initiatives such as the plastic bag ban which was brought in by Scotland in 2014.

Most of the cups used by major coffee shop chains are not recyclable due to the poly­ethylene which makes the material waterproof.

The cups are technically capable of being recycled, however there are very few recycling centres in the UK with the specialised equipment to do so.

Environmental organisations welcomed the move.

Fiona Nicholls, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “It’s only if we take these necessary steps that we might be able to limit plastic waste to a level where we can recycle it all.”

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, chef and environmental campaigner, said: “The UK has woken up and smelled the coffee cup nightmare – and now there’s no way this horrendous and avoidable problem can be put back to sleep. The environmental audit committee has recognised that the huge mountain of disposable coffee cups is effectively unrecylable, and is overwhelming and disrupting the nation’s waste disposal systems.”

However, the Marine Conservation Society said the levy should be a “stepping stone” to a target of 100 per cent of single use coffee cups being recycled.

The environment committee report said that is the 2023 deadline for recycling all cups is not met, the government should ban disposable coffee cups all together.

The committee’s report added that the government should adopt a “producer responsibility compliance fee structure” that rewards design for recyclability and raises charges on packaging that is difficult to recycle.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “In our Programme for Government, we have already committed to examining ways to reduce the use of single-use items, such as through a possible levy on coffee cups. We will appoint an expert panel to advise how we can best achieve this.”