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UK Legislators Propose ‘Latte Levy’ on Paper Coffee Cups

“coffee-cup-insulated-cafe.jpg” by r. nial bradshaw is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Noting that approximately 2.5 billion paper-based disposable coffee cups are thrown away in the UK every year, a British Parliamentary committee is calling for a 25 pence (approximately USD$0.34) tax on disposable coffee cups.

In a 37-page report on disposable coffee cups, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee also proposed banning disposable paper cups entirely by 2023 if they are not all being recycled.

“Most people mistakenly think that that disposable cups are widely recycled, and dispose of them in on-street recycling bins,” the committee wrote, adding that, in reality, less than 1 in 400 (0.25 percent) cups are recycled. “This consumer confusion shows that retailers have failed to be clear with consumers about coffee cups.”

The committee likened the “latte levy” to the 5p tax placed on single-use plastic bags in 2015, resulting in a reported 83 percent reduction in plastic bags within one year. “In much the same way that people now often carry a bag-for-life to avoid the 5p bag charge, we heard that there would be times when people could plan ahead and bring a reusable cup, for instance, on the way to work or throughout the working day when coffee purchasing is more habitual than impulsive,” the group wrote.

Of course, such an tax on coffee cups would have sweeping ramifications within the still-growing British coffee sector, from the manufacturers of paper products down to the smallest independent espresso purveyors. According to a Reuters report, a spokesman from the the British environment ministry said the ministry plans to “carefully consider the committee’s recommendations and respond shortly.”

Some of the UK’s largest coffee retailers, including Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Pret a Manger, say they are already offering guests discounts for bringing their own reusable cups for takeaway (a.k.a. to go) orders. However, a recent report that suggests such discounts have virtually no impact, while fees have proven far more effective in altering consumer behavior.

“Some cup manufacturers and coffee shops have made voluntary commitments to
recycle coffee cups. However, the various commitments are inconsistent, and lack quantifiable targets and structure. There is no excuse for the reluctance we have seen from Government and industry to address coffee cup waste,” wrote the committee, which proposes using revenue generated from the latte levy to improve and expand recycling and waste disposal infrastructure.

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