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Kate Oliver

Senior Campaigns Officer

Charities Aid Foundation


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IS THE #LATTELEVY JUST THE BEGINNING?

5 January 2018

This morning the media has been set alight with the idea of the aptly named ‘#lattelevy’, the concept of paying a 25p levy on disposable coffee cups, to build on the success of the plastic bag levy which has been incredibly successful in reducing the use of plastic bags, and has also generated unprecedented funds for local and national charitable causes.

The reason for the renewed interest in the policy, which was originally put forward by the Lib Dems back in May 2017 ahead of the General Election, is the findings of a new report by the Environmental Audit Committee, who have recommended that introducing the said 25p charge would encourage consumers to use their own reusable items, reducing the huge amount of waste generated by disposable cups.

THE PROBLEM

Currently at least 2.5 billion disposable cups are thrown away every year. Add to this the waste caused by single use plastics – which the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) highlighted earlier this year – and the threat to the environment is considerable. Currently however, just four recycling companies in the UK can separate the plastic film lining the inside of a disposable paper coffee cup and a result, only 0.25% of cups are successfully recycled.

Commenting on this morning’s findings, Chair of the Committee, Mary Creagh MP, said "We have seen, with the plastic bag charge, an 83% reduction in use. We think a latte levy will be the kind of charge that will make people think 'I need to bring my cup to work today', in the same way that they are moving more and more to reusable plastic bottles.

The Committee is urging the Government to introduce a 25p charge on disposable cups, to be paid for on top of the price of a coffee. The Audit Committee have called for the revenue to be used to invest in reprocessing facilities and infrastructure, to help ensure that disposable cups and other food and drink packaging is recycled.

Commenting on the proposals and why this new measure is needed, Creagh said ‘A reusable cup is one of the easiest ways to reduce cup waste but the discounts offered by coffee companies are ineffective. The plastic bag charge is proof that charges are highly effective at reducing packaging waste. We urge the Government to introduce a 25p charge on disposable cups’.

WILL IT WORK?

One of the reasons that this policy has been put on the table is because of the success of the plastic bag levy. Introduced across the UK (England was the last country in the UK to do so, in October 2015), the plastic bag levy sees customers at large stores charged 5p for each plastic bag that they use. Following this change, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), found that plastic bag usage fell by six billion in the first year.

The plastic bag levy has been successful for two reasons. Firstly, it has led to positive behaviour change, which sees people using their own reusable bags instead. However secondly, consumers know that in instances where they do end up buying a plastic bag, most of their 5p cost is passed onto a good cause. Almost £30 million was raised for charities in its first six months alone. This poses the question of whether levies and consumer charges are become more favourable as they are able to generate high sources of income for sectors that would otherwise struggle, and allow consumers less guilt if they feel that there decision to continue to buy plastic bags or coffee cups may be having a positive impact somewhere in the world.

Of course in the long-term, we would hope that the behavioural change that the plastic bag levy and any possible future charges generates will mean that people’s usage of plastics and non recyclables will continue to fall, but this latest move by the Environmental Audit committee does however show that there may still be appetite for levies and consumer charges to be used in a positive way - opening up the possibilities of whether further small charges to encourage changes in consumer behaviour could also be used in the interim to help the most vulnerable in our society.

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