When Parliment’s Environment Audit Committee published a report stating that fewer than 1 in 400 take out coffee cups are recycled.; and suggested the introduction of a “latte levy” (25p charge per take out cup) it created a storm within our industry.
I asked on social media:
What are your thoughts on paper cup tax?
Although we were already using compostable cups, lids, straws and boxes, we were interested in what our customers thought about the proposed latte levy; as being greener is a big drive for us over 2018.
>>>> do you think the government should encourage more people to reuse by charging a covert tax?
>>>> where does ultimate responsibility lie? Government, business or consumer?
The resulting conversation was fascinating and showed a broad spectrum of ideas which I’ve rounded up below (alongside some industry commentary on the topic too) 👇
Many felt that although we should reuse; until our hand is forced (by money or otherwise) we do not change our lifestyle.
Most who commented on our post supported a levy on single use cups, citing plastic bag tax has demonstrated we will change our ways if forced (plastic bag use has gone down circa 80pc with the 5p tax).
>>>> this is an economic theory of loss aversion, and is explained neatly here.
Is this a simple answer to the problem?
Possibly not, as although the consumer would be paying more, and many may end up reusing their own cups, there could be unplanned consequences for many shops, specifically within smaller independent speciality coffee venues.
United Baristas responded to the news of the latte levy with a neat blog (see here) detailing the economics of most coffee shops operating from sites with an A1 basis (and therefore dependent upon take out sales to remain within the law). The proposed levy could see many of these sites breaking the law, and as such having to close.
Potentially the businesses that try the hardest environmentally would be the ones closing, rather than the big boys.
... THE BIG BOYS
Some commented on a practice seen in some of the larger chains whereby ONLY paper cups are available, even if you are drinking in.
Claire neatly emphasised this point by describing New York:
“This scale of this issue hit me last month on a trip to NYC with over 340 Starbucks in manhattan alone and no “drink in” mug options there were literally thousands of coffee cups being discarded every minute. Everywhere I looked there were paper cups in bins or being held by people for a few short moments before being thrown away.
Wow. See previous point above 👆
BUT ARE COMPOSTABLES THE ANSWER?
At our shop we use compostable or recyclable cups, straws and take out consumables as standard. As a business this costs us more to do, but we feel that this is a better alternative than single use plastic.
The issue, which was outlined by the steering committees suggestion of a latte levy is that many of the cups being used are not able to be recycled. If the cups are replaced by environmentally friendly products then would this be the answer to the problem?
Perhaps, yet these are not without their own issues. We found that many of our customers were not aware that our cups were even compostable in the first place, and those that did know were not always able to dispose of them correctly. If these cups end up with normal waste, is there any point in using them?
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF LOCAL AUTHORITY.
Does this mean the problem lies within a lack of government/local authority response to the waste issue. With a changing society do they need to provide different waste collection solutions. I find it crazy that you can go to other cities or countries and they provide sperate waste bins on street as standard. England has been behind on this issue for many years.
Dean stated that:
”If a council can't provide waste paper cup recycling bins on the high street then that borough has no business applying any sort of tax to paper cups.”
George said that we needed to ensure that consumers were disposing of cups correctly, and even more importantly that councils had a responsibility to ensure there are adequate bins/collection points:
“Businesses can only go so far, the rest is in the hands of others.”
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
We found that as many supported a levy on single use cups; most also supported this with compostable cups, stating that there should be an additional tax on all single use packaging items.
The aim should be for all to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Some people went even further by saying there should be an outright ban on single use cups; e.g. unless you bring your own cup then you shouldn’t be allowed to have a take out coffee.
In an ideal world, that is surely the ultimate aim and with a breadth of reusable cup companies out there, from keep cup to frank green there is a reusable cup to suit all budgets.
We do support some form of tax on take out paper cups, but believe that this should be extended to all single use items that are not able to be recycled or composted. For us, this includes supermarket plastic waste (which is in our eyes a bigger problem)
We believe that there should be better waste infrastructure to enable consumers to deal with waste appropriately and that cups should have disposal information on them.
Mostly we believe in promoting a reuse culture. For us, this is where we should be, and where the aim has to be.
Sure, they are a little clunky to carry around, but most of us carry a bag that will fit a cup in it. (And most importantly) coffee tastes so much better when not drunk from a paper cup ✌️
Following on from this conversation we increased our discount for using a “reusable cup” from 10% to 15%. We are now looking at other ways to promote less waste within our community and are very excited to have the support of Clare Seek and others who are doing so much in the local community.
On Tuesday 13th February after some lobbying from local green groups Portsmouth council passed a motion to work towards become a plastic free city. More information of the campaign can be found as it develops here