Michael Lear



Michael is currently studying Politics and International Relations and enjoys writing about the latest political developments. He also has a passion for cars and has been marshalling on rallies since the age of 12 (the form of motorsport, not the political kind!)

Photo by bbc.co.uk

The ‘war on waste’ has a new target in its sights: coffee cups. 2.5 billion of them are thrown away every year, prompting MPs to call for the introduction of a new 25p tax to help deal with the environmental impact. Although it is possible to recycle disposable cups, the cost and difficulty of doing so, combined with a lack of facilities, mean most simply end up in landfill. However, it’s unfair to pass the cost of rectifying this onto coffee-drinkers. With the prospect of a complete ban on disposable cups by 2023 if the situation fails to improve, this is an important piece of environmental regulation which sadly misses the mark.

While we all have a duty to ‘do our bit’ to help protect the environment, the so-called ‘latte levy’ places an unfair burden of responsibility onto the consumer when the major coffee shop companies neglect their role to play in regards of tackling the issue of disposable cups. One of the solutions put forward has been to encourage people to bring their own reusable cups by offering them a discount, usually between 20-50p. But this initiative has had limited impact, something which perhaps says a lot about the effort many of us are willing to put into on a daily basis in the name of environmental protection. Despite this, I don’t believe the rejection of the reusable cup is a genuine reflection of our green credentials. It seems that customers just need to be provided with an easier option. Quite simply, if we were offered a recyclable product, most of us wouldn’t think twice about disposing of it correctly.

This is where the companies which manufacture the takeaway coffee cups come in. It is not unreasonable to suggest that they should contribute more to the cost of disposing of their product in an environmentally-friendly way. Better still, instead of introducing a new tax and penalising coffee drinkers, why not consider more innovative solutions? There are already companies out there working on a range of products and services to replace the much-maligned disposable cup, from cups designed to be easier to recycle, to a reusable cup rental scheme and even edible cups! With the support of coffee companies, there is no reason why one of these ideas couldn’t become a viable alternative to the standard takeaway cup.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the debate surrounding disposable cups is the lack of originality shown by politicians when coming up with a solution to the problem. Proposing a tax targeted at consumers while allowing companies which continue to produce and distribute a harmful product to avoid paying any sort of financial penalty is neither a fair nor intelligent response to what is undoubtedly a serious concern. The success of the 5p plastic bag charge no doubt influenced MPs’ thinking on this issue, but when the possibility exists to phase out disposable cups completely in favour of more environmentally-friendly alternatives, why not do everything to achieve this? If the political will existed to encourage large corporations to take on board the ideas of individuals and start-up companies with plans to rid the world of unrecycled cups, then surely this would be the most effective option. The ‘latte levy’ might make some people think twice before having their morning cup of coffee, but it’s a flawed solution to a genuine environmental problem.