Coffee chain Boston Tea Party bans single-use takeaway cups
The ban, announced in April, represents a more hard-line and ambitious approach to reducing coffee cup waste in the UK than that taken by most larger chains. All customers must now bring in their own reusable cup or buy one in store; BTP has also developed a cup loan scheme, allowing customers to ‘rent’ a reusable cup for a deposit of £4.50. which can then be reclaimed when the cup is returned to the cafe.
The West Country-based company, which has already banned plastic straws and bottles from its stores through its ‘Making Things Better’ strategy, claims its bold move could result in losses of over £1 million, as sales of takeaway hot drinks represent 5.2 per cent of its total turnover, but Managing Director Sam Roberts explained: “We want to demonstrate to other operators that to make a difference, big change is needed. We will make this work and we’ll share details of how we’ve done it with anyone who wants our help to do the same.”
BTP did trial a 25-pence discount to customers who brought their own reusable cup, but the take-up of the offer was ‘painfully low’, with only around three per cent of takeaway drinks sold in this way.
By not issuing disposable cups, BTP claims it stands to save 9.1 pence per takeaway hot drink, which it has committed to donating to local community projects – rounding the total up to 10 pence – near to the location of its cafes, including Community of Purpose in Bristol, a charity working to establish breakfast clubs in schools to ensure children get a meal before they start the day, and Changing Horizons in Exeter, which uses music and art events to spread mental health awareness.
The extent of the coffee cup waste problem in the UK is vast – of the estimated 2.5 billion plastic-coated coffee cups used in the UK every year, only 0.25 per cent are recycled, with the vast majority (95.75 per cent) ending up in landfill, while four per cent are littered. Unless more is done to stem the tide of coffee cup waste, it is predicted that situation will only worsen in the coming years – a recent report from the World Wildlife Fund, in partnership with Eunomia Research and Consulting, predicted that the UK will throw away a third more single-use coffee cups by 2030.
Processing coffee cups can be problematic for recyclers due to the composite nature of the product, with cardboard cups usually coated in a plastic layer to help the cup maintain its shape. However, paper manufacturer James Cropper recently announced that it would soon be able to process 500 million cups a year, while packaging company DS Smith claims it can process all of the UK’s coffee cup waste at its Kemsley paper mill in Kent.
Debate has grown around whether the focus should be on improving recycling or reducing consumption; Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) have called repeatedly for the government to introduce a 25-pence charge on disposable cups in order to encourage the uptake of reusable alternatives, with revenue from the charge going to fund the UK’s recycling infrastructure. However, the government response to the EAC’s recent report on coffee cup waste stated that it prefers to support voluntary commitments by retailers over legislative action.
Despite the lack of hard legislation either banning the cups or obligating retailers to impose charges, many retailers have begun to address the problem to varying degrees. UK supermarket chain Waitrose has banned all disposable coffee cups from its stores, which it says will save 52 million cups from being thrown away every year, while high-street coffee chain Starbucks is currently trialling a five-pence ‘latte levy’ in 35 of its London stores. Coffee chain Costa has even announced plans to recycle up to 500 million disposable coffee cups a year by 2020, subsidising waste collection companies Veolia, Biffa, Suez, Grundon and First Mile to the tune of £70 per tonne of takeaway cups collected, with the aim of raising the value of the items and providing an incentive for their recycling.
While government legislation has been lacking on disposable coffee cups, the UK Parliament and devolved administrations have taken steps to eradicate the items on their own premises, with the Houses of Parliament aiming to ‘virtually eliminate single-use avoidable plastics’, including coffee cups, from the Parliamentary Estate by 2019, while the Scottish Government announced this week that it will be banning single-use coffee cups in its main buildings to cut down on single-use plastic waste.