Our dan­ger­ous ad­dic­tion to take­away cof­fee

The Week - - Front Page -

They have called it the “latte levy”, but Twitter has come up with a mil­lion vari­a­tions, said James Moore in The In­de­pen­dent: the “cappa-charge-o”, the “americharge-o” etc. I am, of course, re­fer­ring to the call by MPS on the En­vi­ron­men­tal Au­dit Com­mit­tee for a 25p charge on dis­pos­able cof­fee cups. We get through 2.5 bil­lion cof­fee cups each year, but less than 1% are re­cy­cled, mainly be­cause they have a plas­tic lin­ing that only three UK plants can sep­a­rate. The big cof­fee shops brand them­selves as cud­dly and car­ing, yet MPS say they have done re­mark­ably lit­tle to tackle this prob­lem. And we con­sumers aren’t much bet­ter. We pro­fess to care about the en­vi­ron­ment, but it seems that too of­ten, our con­ve­nience trumps it: even when chains have of­fered dis­counts to cus­tomers who bring their own re­us­able cups, 98% have kept tak­ing the dis­pos­able ones. The plas­tic bag levy has changed our be­hav­iour. Why not ex­tend it?

Be­cause de­spite all the huff­ing and puff­ing of green cru­saders, cof­fee cups aren’t, in the scheme of things, that much of a prob­lem, said Tom Welsh in The Sun­day Tele­graph. They ac­count for 0.1% of waste, and while 500,000 of them are lit­tered each day, which is ter­ri­ble, that’s only 4% of those used. So why pe­nalise the vast ma­jor­ity of cof­fee drinkers who – wrongly as­sum­ing the cups are re­cy­clable – try to dis­pose of them re­spon­si­bly, but are thwarted by this coun­try’s fail­ure to in­vest in proper re­pro­cess­ing plants, and by the in­dus­try’s fail­ure to de­velop biodegrad­able cups. It seems a lack of con­sumer aware­ness is a ma­jor part of the prob­lem. Could the MPS’ levy be an at­ten­tion-grab­bing gim­mick? Not nec­es­sar­ily, said the Daily Mail. The pro­posal is that the money raised from the levy would be used to im­prove our re­pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Ul­ti­mately, though, we need to change our habits, said Alice Thom­son in The Times: the plas­tic waste prob­lem is reach­ing a cri­sis point, and the only real so­lu­tion is to pro­duce less of it. It wouldn’t be dif­fi­cult for con­sumers to cut back – by us­ing fewer dis­pos­able cups and wa­ter bot­tles, buy­ing soap in bars and not in dis­pensers, opt­ing for the condi­ments that are still sold in glass jars. If shop­pers start to boy­cott plas­tic, man­u­fac­tur­ers will find al­ter­na­tives.

25p: the price of con­ve­nience

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