Disposable, single use items like coffee cups are a scourge in the world of waste. They're an item that most people use on a daily basis, en masse. In the United Kingdom, MPs are attempting to enact a tax on disposable cups, according to the BBC. Somewhat playfully named the "latte levy," the tax would be an incentive for drinkers to start bringing a reusable container to the coffee shop.
Extra Crispy reports that about 2.5 billion of these paper cups go into the trash every year in the U.K. alone. Many people have the misapprehension that these cups are recycled, since they're made of paper. However, the interior of a coffee cup is coated with a substance to prevent them from leaking—and which also makes them ineligible for recycling.
The tax would be 25 pence per cup (or 34 cents), with the threat that a total ban would be enacted if recycling measures don't improve. A few coffee houses are already experimenting with a cup fee. Starbucks is charging 5p a cup in some locations and up to 25p in central London.
Other businesses offer an incentive rather than a punishment, giving discounts to people who bring in a reusable container. But there is still an issue with training. Breaking up the work flow and using a different container can slow things down. Just read these stories from Twitter users who claim that a cup got wasted despite their best efforts:
I took my reusable @KeepCup into @StarbucksUK in Bishop’s Stortford M11 services last week but they made my coffee in takeaway cup and then just poured it in my @keepcup 😱 takeaway cup then still went in the bin! I was gutted #lattelevy @2minbeachclean— Lottie Williams (@LottieRiverCare) January 5, 2018
Though the latte levy is still just a proposal, it could have legs. In 2015, Britain instituted a 5p tax on plastic bags in grocery stores, the New York Times reports. Use of plastic bags has dipped by 80 percent.
Some are frustrated that consumers are being punished for retailer using non-recyclable materials, but ultimately there is evidence that the tax could change people's dependence on the single use cups. And that's what matters.
Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, told the NYT, "The polluter should pay for it. It shouldn’t be the public that should pay for it, but we’d still be in favor because it will change behavior.”
There is also the option of developing a recyclable cup, which in reality may be the most effective solution. But a material that both degrades enough for recycling and holds hot water is a difficult balance to strike. Recycling plants are also reluctant to use paper that has been contaminated with food or other edibles. At the moment the best solution is to take personal initiative. Bring your cup from home—and make sure they use it.