Government fails to commit to 25p ‘latte levy’

The government has been accused of taking ‘no real action’ on tackling single-use coffee cups after failing to commit to a ‘latte levy’.

A 25p charge on disposable cups was recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee in its Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups report as part of a move to reduce single-use coffee cup to use and help fund recycling measures.

In its response published today [9 March], the government acknowledged that incentives such as the 5p single-use plastic bag charge – which has resulted in far fewer being sold – could change consumer behaviour and confirmed it “could consider” a levy on coffee cups “amongst other policy options”.

However, the environmental audit committee slammed ministers for failing to take “decisive action”.

“The UK’s throwaway culture is having a devastating impact on our streets, beaches and seas,” MP Mary Creagh 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.”

Committee members had called for all disposable coffee cups to be recycled by 2023, and insisted such cups should be banned if the target is not met.

According to Creagh, the UK throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year – almost none are recycled and half a million a day are littered.

She claimed lessons could be learned from the plastic bag charge, which helped reduce plastic bag usage by more than 83% in the first year.

“Evidence to our inquiry demonstrated that charges work better than discounts for reducing the use of non-recyclable materials – as was the case with the plastic bag charge,” Creagh continued. By choosing to favour voluntary discounts for reusable cups, the government is ignoring the evidence about what works.

“DEFRA’s Voluntary and Economic Incentives working group should open their consultation on coffee cups as soon as possible. The government should look to repeat the success of the 5p bag charge by introducing a latte levy.”

A government spokesperson said: “It is wrong to say government is not taking decisive action – we have set out our commitment to the environment in our 25-year plan, published in January, and we are looking at further ways to reduce avoidable waste and recycle more as part of our resources and waste strategy.”

He added that industry had a crucial role to play in making more products recyclable.

“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,” he said.

Elena Polisano, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said the government should be wary of missing opportunities to show support for simple measures to tackle single-use plastics.

"Given the strength of public demand for action on plastic packaging, it is disappointing that Michael Gove didn’t use this opportunity to indicate clear support for a levy on disposable coffee cups,” she declared.

“He needs to listen to MPs, retailers, and the majority of the public, who are asking him to act decisively on reducing throwaway plastic packaging. He should crack on with relatively simple solutions like a levy on coffee cups immediately before introducing a deposit return scheme for all drinks containers later this year.”

Jean-Michel Orieux, CEO of PAUL UK, which has 33 sites across London, two in Oxford and one in Newbury Parkway, said the company offered its own branded reusable cups in-store and gave customers a 25p discount for using their own cup.

“We strongly believe our customers are committed to helping the environment and therefore able to make their own informed decisions without the need for taxation at this point. Our philosophy is to provide positive incentives rather than to tax them,” he said.

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