Scottish panel recommends 20-25 pence ‘latte levy’

A panel of environmental experts in Scotland has recommended that a 20-25 pence charge should be placed on disposable coffee cups, a policy that the UK Government has previously rejected.

The recommendation comes from the Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and Other Measures, a Scottish Government advisory group set up in May 2018 to advise on Scotland’s transition to a circular economy.

On Wednesday (17 July), the group published its first report looking at how Scotland can tackle its dependence on single-use cups, with Dame Sue Bruce, Chair of the panel, explaining: “We have recommended a range of measures from charging separately for disposable cups to developing pilots to promote reusable cups.”

In Scotland, the report notes, around 200 million single-use cups are consumed every year (generating 4,000 tonnes of waste and approximately 5,900 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), a figure that could rise to 310 million by 2025 without intervention.

A woman holding a reusable coffee cup
The Expert Panel on Environmental Charging would like to boost uptake of reusable cups
The picture for cup recycling in the UK is already improving – a report from the Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group (PCRRG) forecast that one in 12 coffee cups will be recycled in 2019 – but the waste hierarchy calls for a focus on reuse over recycling, something that the panel report is strongly in favour of. Bruce continued: “Our overarching message is that social marketing and raising availability and awareness of the alternatives to single-use are vital. There needs to be a move away from single-use disposable beverage cups completely and not just to an improved model for recycling.”

As such, the panel would like to see a core ambition at the heart of the Scottish Government’s action on coffee cups: to ensure that Scotland has a ‘sustainable model of consumption by 2025 which includes the majority of beverages being sold in reusable cups.’

The headline recommendation to come out of the report is the call for a 20-25 pence charge on single-use coffee cups. A number of coffee chains have been voluntarily introducing measures to encourage the use of reusables, with many now offering discounts for customers that bring their own cups. However, a Cardiff University study found that charges were more effective in changing behaviour than discounts.

Starbucks is one of the few chains to combine a discount for reusables with an additional five pence charge on disposable cups, but this level of charge may be too low to make a significant difference. Evidence from environmental consultancy firm Eunomia suggests that a 25 pence levy could reduce consumption by up to 30 per cent.

At the start of this year, the Scottish Government said it would ‘in principle’ get behind the idea of a charge on coffee cups as part of a deal made with the Scottish Greens to get its budget through Holyrood. In contrast, the UK Government has consistently refused to commit to introducing a levy on cups in England, preferring to focus on voluntary action by businesses despite calls from MPs in the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to introduce the measure.

Compared to the UK Government, the devolved government in Scotland has moved quickly with a number of environmental pledges, including a commitment to introducing a deposit return scheme (DRS) – a proposal for this policy was unveiled in May and proposed a 20 pence refundable deposit be added to a wide range of recyclable drinks containers.

Coffee cup recommendations

The panel’s key recommendations to cut the use of disposable cups in Scotland include:

  • The use of social marketing measures to ‘shift the paradigm’ so that unsustainable consumption becomes socially unacceptable.
  • A national, mandatory requirement to charge for drinks separately to cups, with an initial price of between 20 and 25 pence per disposable cup.
  • The development of a national coffee cup consumption reduction target.
  • A ban on the sale of non-recyclable polystyrene cups by 2021.
  • Reusable cup rental schemes to be trialled in ‘significant parts of Scotland’ by the end of 2019.
  • Promotion of recycling, where reuse is not yet possible, through clearer consumer messaging and innovation in cup design.

The report can be read in full on the Scottish Government website.

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