Leader comment: Coffee cup charge a rational idea

If there is a sign of clever and effective legislation, it is the way that once contentious proposals quickly become accepted as the norm once they enter the statute books.

Even a small charge for a coffee cup would make a big difference to the amount of resource wasted in their production. Picture: Getty Images
Even a small charge for a coffee cup would make a big difference to the amount of resource wasted in their production. Picture: Getty Images

The single use carrier bag charge is a case in point. Since its introduction in Scotland three years ago, it has brought about significant environmental benefits, with hundreds of millions fewer bags being handed out by retailers.

While this has had the obvious benefit of less litter in our towns, cities, and beaches, it has also heralded a widespread cultural change. Few of us now embark on a shopping trip without a clutch of reusable bags stashed away in our bag or car boot.

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It is only common sense, therefore, that a similar initiative addressing other aspects of our throwaway culture be given serious consideration. Researchers at Cardiff University believe that, by imposing a small levy on coffee drinkers, up to 300 million fewer disposable cups a year would be used.

They found that by providing free reusable alternatives, combined with environmental messaging and a charge on disposable cups, the use of reusable cups increased in one cafe from 5.1 per cent to 17.4 per cent.

Professor Wouter Poortingo, the lead author of the report, said that charges on disposable cups were the best way to change the behaviour of consumers.

The study is due to be submitted to a UK government inquiry into waste.

Given coffee now rivals tea for popularity, the authorities should pursue its findings keenly, in the interests of keeping the 
country tidy as well as helping the global environment.