Why stop at the latte? We should apply levies to all disposable, single-use products

At The Simplr Co, the first product that we released is the reusable Glass Sleek Coffee Cup. So it’s no wonder that we spend quite a lot of time bringing attention to the issue of disposable coffee cups, but we know that disposable coffee cups are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of single use plastics and products we use and dispose of regularly. Although the UK produces 30,000 tons of disposable coffee cup waste each year, this actually accounts to only about 0.1% to 0.7% of all UK disposable packaging waste. So it makes us wonder, why is there so much attention focused on only single-use carrier bags and now, with the proposed latte levy, disposable coffee cups? Are we just following the spotlight that the media focuses on, or are we unfairly singling out specific industries?

The proposal of the latte levy has seen criticism, mostly from small independent coffee shops, whose business would most likely be hit hardest by this levy. The proposed latte levy would see customers be charged an additional 25p for using disposable coffee cups, similar to the plastic carrier-bag charge of 5p. Such a dramatic increase in price could see less consumers buying spur of the moment coffee. Coffee shops could choose to absorb a portion of the 25p levy and reflect that in an increase in all of their prices, or coffee shops could absorb the total levy fee and loose even more margin. However, the latter option seems the most extreme and unfair - when you look at the operating costs of a coffee shop, they’re already high and require the sale of many coffees to make minimal profit. Many small independent coffee shops already try to address disposable coffee cup waste by providing discounts for the use of reusable coffee cups, encouraging the sales of reusable coffee cups, and small independent shops are more likely to invest in biodegradable disposable coffee cups, however, this comes at an increased cost and eats into their bottom line already.

There is a feeling that the proposed latte levy in singling out the coffee industry. There are many other disposable products that could see such levies applied to them and could be even more meaningful to minimize the impact of plastic and waste, most notably plastic bottles and canned drinks. In Germany, for example, a 25 cent deposit on plastic bottles has resulted in a 98.5% return rate of plastic bottles! In comparison, recycling rates of plastic bottles in the UK are only about 57%. That means that in the UK, about 5.5 billion plastic water bottles annually are not recycled and find themselves in landfills. Those 5.5 billion bottles make up 26% of the UK’s total plastic packaging. That’s much more than the 0.7% that disposable coffee cups make up of all UK disposable packaging waste. 

So why should we stop at the latte levy? Why are we even starting with the latte levy and not starting with the obvious, low hanging fruit? Considering the Chinese ban on importing the UK’s plastic waste for recycling in mainland China since January 2018, the UK should be doing anything and everything to try to  not just encourage recycling (which at the moment they’re admittedly struggling to cope with recycling the current recycled products) but to reduce plastic consumption in general. Not just plastic bottles, but all the needless plastic that encases our fruits and vegetables, our sandwiches and biscuits, the plastic that that envelopes our packages from our online shopping, the plastic containers that we get our takeaway food in.

Of course, this isn’t just an issue that the government is responsible in tackling - they should do as much as they can, but overall, it’s a societal issue, and we all need to take responsibility for our lifestyles and their effects on the environment. Large corporate companies are trying to address these issues themselves without any directive from the government, like Evian, who will soon make all of their water bottles from 100% recycled plastic. And we as individuals need to educate ourselves and build new habits around mindful consumption. But most importantly, we all need to come together and form communities of like-minded people to push this message to it’s tipping point and eradicate our dependence on plastic and disposable, single-use products.

[UPDATE: since writing this article, the UK government has rejected the idea of a latte levy - although we weren't convinced this would be the solution to eradicating the use of disposable coffee cups, it was certainly a step in the right direction].

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