Government doesn't back MP recommendations for a "latte levy" on disposable coffee cups.

Date posted: 9 March 2018

MCS is disappointed and frustrated to learn that the main recommendations of the Environmental Audit Committee for a charge on coffee cups, and a potential future ban, appear to have been rejected by Government. Instead, cafe owners and customers are expected to contribute voluntarily to reduce the number of cups being used and thrown away.

Coffee Cup
© Ross Varrette

The levels of plastic pollution in our seas are increasing at an alarming rate. Significant action is needed now, and a levy on coffee cups would be an obvious first step for the government to take.

Dr Chris Tuckett,
MCS Director of Programmes

Take-away coffee cups may look like cardboard through-and-through but on the inside they are lined with a plastic, making them hard to recycle and resulting in 99% of them being destined for landfill or incineration. At present, few cups are recycled and half a million a day are littered. In the last five years, the MCS Beachwatch beach clean and survey programme has seen an increase of 93% in coffee cups found on UK beaches.

MCS says that, despite claims in its 25-year Environment Plan that real action on plastics will be taken, the Government is not backing up its words with action to tackle the growing plastic tide. Environment Secretary Michael Gove last month described the levy as an “exciting idea” and presented Cabinet colleagues with reusable coffee cups made from bamboo when they met to discuss the Plan.

In its official response to the committee’s report, the Government says only that a charge is “something we could consider amongst other policy options”. Instead, it praises coffee chains which offer discounts to customers who bring in their own reusable cups and said it would like to see all drink vendors do the same.

Ministers also rejected a second key recommendation from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, for a ban on disposable cups from 2023 unless the industry hits a target of recycling 100% of those placed in recycling bins.

At present, only one in 400 disposable coffee cups is recycled, even though 90% of customers put them in recycling bins. The takeout cups are made with paper fused with polyethylene which cannot be dealt with in standard recycling mills. So those placed in general paper recycling bins are likely to end up in landfill, with some 2.5 billion cups dumped this way each year.

Committee chair Mary Creagh said the Government’s response fails to live up to its “warm words” on reducing waste. “The UK’s throwaway culture is having a devastating impact on our streets, beaches and seas,” she said. “Our report recommended practical solutions to the disposable packaging crisis. The Government’s response shows that despite warm words they plan no real action.”

Despite targets for recycling 69.5% of paper and 51% of plastics, just 0.25% of disposable coffee cups are recycled, said the committee, which called for a “producer responsibility” scheme to raise the cost of cups which are hard to recycle. A Government spokesperson said: “Industry has a crucial role to play in making more products recyclable and we are working with them to reform our packaging waste regulations so producers are incentivised to take greater responsibility for the environmental impact of their products.”

Last year, a YouGov survey for MCS revealed that 74% - that’s almost three out of four people questioned across the UK - would support a charge on single-use coffee cups. The poll asked people if they would support paying a deposit on disposable coffee cups to encourage the use of refillable cups or cups being returned for recycling. Only 8% of responders opposed such charges. 70% of people surveyed also supported a ban on the use of polystyrene food containers and cups, with most support coming from those aged 55 or over.

Actions you can take

  1. Help us stop the plastic tide
  2. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2019

Did you know?…

Every day millions of microplastics enter the sea from personal care products such as scrubs and toothpastes

On UK beaches levels of litter have doubled in the past 20 years

To date, our beach cleans have removed over 11 million pieces of litter