Time To Tackle Single Use Coffee Cups?


As we work, travel and socialise, it becomes evident that coffee is inextricably connected with our everyday lives. Our desire to consume ‘on the go’ has filled our streets with people clutching coffee-filled paper cups. Each year in the UK, 2.5 billion of paper coffee cups are thrown into recycling bins. However, only 1% of these cups end up being recycled, with 99% contributing to a mountain of landfill coffee cups.

This is because paper coffee cups provided by franchised coffee giants such as Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Caffè Nero, which dominate over half of the UK’s coffee industry, are almost impossible to recycle. This is due to a layer of polyethylene, a petroleum-based plastic, used to fuse the cups to give them a waterproof function. Most recycling facilities are unable to separate the polyethylene from the paper, meaning that these cups are consistently being diverted to landfill where they release methane and carbon dioxide. Coffee cups cannot be made from recycled material in the first place, as a seam of card inside the cup comes into contact with coffee.

Also, most single us coffee cups (SUCC) are made of virgin material, therefore represents a significant waste of resources as it is generally only used once before being discarded, yet persists in the environment for years to come. One of the solutions being explored in response to this recycling crisis is a charge for the use of SUCC. The Liberal Democrats, for example, have proposed a 5p charge for the use of SUCC. The objectives of this policy are to reduce the production and consumption of SUCC and to encourage wider consumer behavioural change where consumers use reusable alternatives. The concept draws strong resemblance to the 5p charge on single-use carrier bags introduced by the Welsh Assembly Government.

In 2011, Wales became the first country in the United Kingdom to introduce a charge on single-use carrier bags, and achieved a 71% reduction in carrier bag usage in the first three years of the legislation. The charge led to a significant shift in consumer behaviour with important environmental benefits, and influenced the adoption of similar policies by other nations. Following the success of the bag levy, Wales could further build its recycling success through implementing a charge for the use of SUCC.

A charge for the use of SUCC could reduce landfill waste and its associated greenhouse gas emissions, facilitating the achievement of waste reduction and prevention targets set out by Towards Zero Waste, Wales’ long term waste management framework. The charge could lead to increased public awareness of issues surrounding waste and recycling and encourage consumers to adapt their behaviour towards achieving a more sustainable level of consumption. Another way to cut down on this waste, is to encourage consumers to invest in a reusable coffee mug, much like a canvas bag.

By putting a charge on SUCC, people will be more likely to buy a reusable mug for their coffee habit. Much like carrying a canvas or reusable bag is now the new normal, so could the reusable coffee cup. The success of the bag levy has demonstrated Wales’ willingness and ability to act quickly on issues of waste and consumer behaviour. And as the booming UK coffee market continues to grow, with coffee shop sales expected to exceed £15 billion by 2025.

Imposing a charge for the use of SUCC could facilitate Wales’ shift away from a ‘throwaway’ society to a more sustainable model which reflects our national well-being goals and the Wales we want for future generations’ By Elian Evans

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