Ministers opt for voluntary action on coffee cups

Government Ministers Attend First Cabinet Meeting Of 2018

Michael Gove has become a reusable cup advocate in the cabinet

The Government has been accused of failing to turn "warm words" on cutting waste into action, after failing to give its backing to calls for a "latte levy" on disposable coffee cups.

It says rather than following the recommendation to introduce a 25p "latte levy", similar to the 5p charge on plastic bags, the government instead suggests coffee shops should offer discounts for customers with reusable cups.

Of the 2.5billion disposable cups used a year, fewer than one in 400 are recycled, meaning most are sent to landfill.

Environmental audit committee chair, Mary Creagh, said: "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", Creagh said. "The government's response shows that despite warm words they plan no real action".

"We are pleased that major coffee retail chains are taking action to reduce single-use coffee cups by offering discounts to customers with reusable cups and are putting in place the infrastructure to ensure cups can be collected for recycling", it said.

In particular, she said the government was "ignoring the evidence" that charges are more effective than discounts in changing consumer behaviour.

"DEFRA's Voluntary and Economic Incentives working group should open their consultation on coffee cups as soon as possible".

Other proposals included adding labels to coffee cups to indicate where they can be recycled and banning them altogether by 2023.

Instead, the government has restated its support for the Paper Cup Manifesto, an industry-led voluntary initiative aiming to significantly increase recycling and recovery rates, though without setting a specific target.

"I think [the Government] has rejected these proposals because they're concerned about what people's reactions are", Ms Foster said.

When discussing the committee's proposals to invest any funds generated into the infrastructure needed to recycle coffee cups, including more specified bins, the response said this approach would "fundamentally undermine" the objective behind producer responsibility regimes which enshrine the "polluter pays" principle.

The committee has called for a new system which would raise the cost for producers on cups that are hard to recycle, incentivising the use of more easily recycled materials, with revenue being funnelled back into United Kingdom infrastructure. The Committee has today asked the National Audit Office to assess whether Government has good oversight of the PRN scheme's performance against its objectives, and whether government has taken a robust approach to preventing fraud and non-compliance.

It also said cup makers could be encouraged to produce more eco-friendly products. "Disposable paper cups are recyclable", he said. But ministers have opted for leaving it up to producers to voluntarily include anti-littering messages on their cups.

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 Government's 25-year Environment Plan.

Mrs Creagh concluded the statement by saying that she expects to see challenging recycling targets for coffee cups in the upcoming Resources and Waste Strategy.

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