A call from MPs for a levy of disposable on-the-go coffee cups – and a total ban if a new recycling regime fails – has generated considerable attention in the national media and reaction within the waste sector.
The Environmental Audit Committee, a cross-departmental watchdog, wants the Government to introduce a 25p “latte levy” to fund recycling and reprocessing facilities.
The MPs called for all disposable cups to be recycled by 2023 and, if the target was not achieved, the Government should ban such cups. They also want producers to pay more for packaging that is difficult to recycle and say improved labelling would help educate consumers.
Committee chair Mary Creagh said: “The UK throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year. Almost none is 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.”
Defra said it was already working closely with industry and organisations such as WRAP.
“We are encouraged by industry action to increase the recycling of paper cups with some major retail chains now offering discounts to customers with reusable cups. We will carefully consider the committee’s recommendations and respond shortly,” it said.
The EAC accused businesses supplying and producing the cups of not bearing the full environmental costs of their disposal. It is generally estimated that packaging producers pay 10% of the cost of packaging disposal and recycling, leaving taxpayers to pay for the remaining 90%.
The committee called on the Government to adopt a producer responsibility compliance fee structure that rewards design for recyclability and raises charges on packaging that is difficult to recycle.
Infrastructure for the collection, sorting and recycling of ‘on the go’ disposable products has not kept pace with society’s demand for convenience food and drink
Ray Georgeson, Resource Association
The Prime Minister joined the debate with two Tweets that referred to the wider issue of plastic waste in the environment:
”In 2015 we introduced the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags, we now see 9bn fewer bags being used. It’s making a real difference. We want to do the same with single use plastics. Nobody who watched #BluePlanet2 will doubt the need for us to do something - and we will.”
“Eight million tonnes of plastic makes its way into the world’s seas and oceans each year - our government will do all it can to play its part in stopping this.”
Resource minister Therese Coffey also tweeted: “A reminder that if you can recycle drinks cartons like tetrapak you should be able to recycle coffee cups too. Fourteen organisations sign ground-breaking agreement with ACE UK to boost paper cup recycling.”
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive officer of Suez, said: “Taxes on takeaway coffee cups may provide a helpful nudge to consumers to abandon a throw-away culture but, for lasting change, proposals like these need to be part of wider, joined-up reform that shifts the burden of responsibility for all forms of packaging content, recyclability and ultimately their collection, back to the producer.
“For any so-called latte tax to be more than just a light and frothy foam nod to reform, we need to wake up and smell the real coffee needed for a lasting brew - increased investment in sustainable product design, greater use of recyclable materials and better capture of materials at the end of their life.”
The public needs a simple, UK wide solution, one which is made possible by the introduction of an on-the-go waste management infrastructure
Martin Kersh, FPA
Resource Association chief executive Ray Georgeson welcomed the report: “Infrastructure for the collection, sorting and recycling of ‘on the go’ disposable products has not kept pace with society’s demand for convenience food and drink. It is recognised that there must be investment to improve the nation’s limited ‘on the go’ recycling collection infrastructure and to support the technology and capacity investments that are needed to ensure that materials collected are efficiently recycled with quality at the heart of the process.”
Simon Weston, director of raw materials at the Confederation of Paper Industries, said: “We welcome the EAC’s recommendation of a target and timescale to improve the recycling of coffee cups, and we call on all parts of the packaging supply chain to collaborate on finding the most sustainable solution for manufacturers, brands, consumers and recyclers.”
Martin Tett, the Local Government Association environment spokesman, said: “We have long called for industry to step up and show more responsibility in tackling this issue, and councils would be keen to work with producers and discuss how the design and recycling of coffee cups can be improved. However, we are clear that this is something that must be addressed by industry, and that any associated costs should not be passed onto consumers.”
Martin Kersh, executive director of the Foodservice Packaging Association, said there would be no need for the 25p levy if two key proposals of the EAC report were enacted.
“The recycling of paper cups is set to increase fast as the coffee cup industry and its customers have introduced a large-scale recycling facility,” he said. ”The key to increased recycling therefore is increased collection and this requires an on-the-go waste management infrastructure that addresses all packaging used in this way and not just cups. The public needs a simple, UK wide solution, one which is made possible by the introduction of an on-the-go waste management infrastructure. To fund this requires a reform of the PRN mechanism.”
Allison Ogden-Newton, chief executive of Keep Britain Tidy, said: “The millions of coffee cups that end up as litter every year blight our environment and we welcome the committee’s call for a 25p charge on these cups to encourage people to switch to reusable cups. We also believe that setting a target for recycling of all disposable coffee cups by 2023 would be a great way to focus minds and we would urge the Government to accept the committee’s recommendations.”
Estelle Brachlianoff, senior executive vice-president at Veolia
“Over the last eight months Veolia has made significant progress in pioneering coffee cup recycling. Working in partnership with Costa, Starbucks and McDonald’s, we have recycled more than 10 million cups nationwide. Our solutions, which have been rolled out nationwide, include in-house recycling bins, bulk collection and a post back service. This helps support better coffee cup disposal and reduces contamination, which is the biggest challenge in the recycling process. We want to see incentives for manufacturers which use recycled materials to give products a second life. More needs to be done and we believe the solution lies in collaboration and at Veolia we want to ensure sustainability throughout the entire supply chain; including designers, manufacturers, processors and consumers. If the proposed levy were to be introduced, we believe it should be used to fund the collection of cups, since once they are separately collected they have a value and can be made into new products. Equally, the levy should be discounted when coffee shops do actually recycle - otherwise it presents no incentive and instead amounts to a general taxation.”