Defra has said there are no plans to mirror the 5p plastic bag levy on paper cups, after resources minister Rory Stewart appeared to suggest a charge could be introduced.
On Thursday Stewart told the House of Commons he wanted to address the “huge problem” of the estimated 2.5 billion plastic-lined coffee cups sent to landfill each year.
He said: “Having tackled plastic bags – and I hope everyone in the House would agree that the plastic bag tax has been a success – coffee cups seems to be a very good thing to look at next.”
But in response a Defra spokesman said: “While the minister acknowledged that more needs to be done to recycle coffee cups, there are no plans to tax them.”
Stewart’s comments followed a debate sparked by TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall, who has accused major coffee firms Costa Coffee and Starbucks of misleading the public about their paper cup recycling efforts.
Simply Cups, the UK’s only recycling firm specialising in the material, recycles less than six million cups a year – around only 0.25% of the UK total. Its annual report, released on Monday, warned that many retailers were wrong in thinking that used paper cups would be recycled when placed into a commingled recycling stream.
Simply Cups co-founder Peter Goodwin said: “What is now apparent, following the debate of the past couple of days, is that the application of the recycling symbol on a product (from whatever industry) bears no guarantee that a product – whilst recyclable – is actually going to be recycled.
“At best, we believe that this may undermine confidence and create scepticism in what brands are trying to communicate to their consumers and, at worst, render the recycling logo completely worthless.”
Goodwin called on the commercial sector to collaborate across the supply chain to “tackle material segregation, collection and reprocessing”.
“Simply Cups has set a target of recycling six million cups by end of 2016,” he said. “This is tiny in comparison with the total number of cups in circulation and the ambitions must, therefore, reach much higher.”
Recycling laminated paper coffee cups involves pulping the cup in water to separate the polyethylene layer from the paper fibre.