Starbucks recycling bins

The large coffee cup chains have introduced recycling bins to combat waste

The Environmental Audit Committee has slammed the government’s reluctance to implement a 25p ‘latte levy’, accusing it of “ignoring the evidence”.

A disposable cup charge was first proposed by an EAC report in January to fund improved “binfrastructure” and boost recycling rates in a bid to reduce the 2.5 billion cups thrown away every year.

Failing to commit to a disposable cup charge, the government’s response to the report focused instead on extending the voluntary commitments from the coffee industry.

“We agree with the Committee’s point on the waste hierarchy and we would also like to see a significant reduction in the use of disposable coffee cups. Clearly, the 5p single-use plastic bag charge has had a big impact and far fewer are being sold,” said the government’s response to the EAC report.

“These types of incentives can change consumer behaviour and this is something we could consider amongst other policy options.”

The government cited the role of coffee chains in implementing reusable cup discounts and recycling infrastructure, and said it would like to see this extended to all businesses selling disposable cups.

It also rejected the Committee’s suggestion of banning disposable cups if they were not all recycled by 2023 as unrealistic, and instead called for clearer consumer messaging on where the products could be recycled.

EAC chair Mary Creagh expressed her frustration at the lack of government action on the findings.

“The UK’s throwaway culture is having a devastating impact on our streets, beaches and seas. Our report recommended practical solutions to the disposable packaging crisis. The government’s response shows that despite warm words they plan no real action,” she said.

“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. By choosing to favour voluntary discounts for reusable cups, the government is ignoring the evidence about what works.”

Meanwhile, the British Coffee Association welcomed the government’s response to the ‘latte levy’, saying that the focus should be on industry efforts to encourage reusable cup use and improve recycling infrastructure, rather than imposing a charge on consumers.

“It is paramount to understand that current disposable cups are recyclable, the problem is that the UK currently lacks the necessary infrastructure to be able to cope with the volumes that are used. So, the clear priority is in expanding infrastructure to recycle disposable cups and to create a fully circular economy,” said a BCA spokesman.

“A latte levy or tax doesn’t achieve this, especially as there are no commitments to ring-fence the funds and use them to invest in infrastructure, and it seems unfair to put another tax on consumers whilst this infrastructure isn’t in place. So overall, we welcome the government’s decision not to introduce a 25p levy. The industry must continue to work to solve this issue and has already made big strides forward, for instance through offering in-store recycling collection and incentivising re-usable cup use.”

Starbucks launched a three-month trial of a 5p disposable cup charge across 35 of its London stores last month.