U.K.’s Latte Levy will tax disposable cups, but leaves coffee giants like Starbucks off the hook

January 11, 2018

The U.K.’s latte levy could have a huge impact on its waste stream, but the focus on improving recycling infrastructure leaves coffee giants like Starbucks off the hook. 

From the New York Times to Inc., Bloomberg, and the BBC, the story is out: Starbucks cups are a problem, and governments are being forced to act. 

Last week, the U.K.’s environmental committee issued a report recommending a 33 cent charge be added to drinks served in plastic-lined, disposable paper cups. 

The tax — dubbed the “Latte Levy” — could have a huge impact on the waste stream in the U.K., where 30,000 tons of disposable coffee cups are purchased each year. Few of them are actually recycled.

“The U.K. throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year — enough to circle the planet five and a half times,” said one committee member. “Almost none are recycled and half a million a day are littered.”

The U.K.’s move should be duplicated in Starbucks-loving cities across the U.S. and Canada, where coffee cup waste is increasingly becoming an issue. Vancouver, B.C. is already considering its own cup fee on the 2.6 million cups its residents throw away each week. 

Following the committee’s call for a 33 cent charge on cups, Starbucks went into full damage control mode, announcing a trial run on its own 7 cent tax at its 345 locations in the U.K.

Latte Levy’s lofty goals 

The goals of the U.K.’s #LatteLevy are threefold:

  • Encourage customers to bring their own cups: People tend to respond better to a required tax than a voluntary discount, so this move should help drastically reduce the amount of single-use cups going into the trash. Case in point with plastic bag fees — use dropped by 85% in U.K. supermarkets after the charge began in 2016.

  • Educate consumers about paper cups: Coffee shops must address the confusion around cup recyclability. In the U.K., most coffee shops label their cups recyclable — which is technically true. But the cups still end up in the landfill. What’s not widely understood is that the cups are only recyclable in special facilities that separate plastic from paper. The committee wants cups to be labeled “not widely recycled” or “recyclable in store only” to help reduce cross-contamination in recycling bins in cities.

  • Fund more recycling facilities: In the U.K., taxpayers pay for an astounding 90% of the cost of dealing with disposable coffee cups. The #LatteLevy aims to stop the greenwashing of large coffee purveyors like Starbucks — who label their cups recyclable, but turn a blind eye to the fact that so few facilities can actually recycle them. The money raised by the latte levy will go toward increasing this infrastructure.

What about a 100% recyclable paper cup?

We applaud the committee for making the much-needed recommendation to implement a tax that encourages customers to bring reusable mugs, and to educate customers about issues of “greenwashing” and recyclability of paper cups.

But the proposal to use the money to revamp recycling infrastructure to recycle plastic-lined paper cups is completely misguided. Why not join the call on major coffee purveyors to create a cup that can be recycled in standard facilities?

Solutions that truly tackle our world’s plastic pollution problem looks much different. That’s why Stand.earth launched the #BetterCup campaign calling on Starbucks to change how its cups are made and create a 100% recyclable paper cup — one that doesn’t need a fancy recycling center.

A true pollution revolution should start within the coffee industry itself. Large purveyors like Starbucks must become leaders in their industry — by not only encouraging consumers to move toward reusable cups, but pioneering an industry-wide transition to a 100% recyclable paper cup.

If Starbucks truly wants to take responsibility for the mounds of waste it creates every day, there’s a simple solution — change the lining of its cups to a material that makes them 100% recyclable.

That way, instead of forcing public investment in pricey recycling facilities that can handle the tricky task of separating plastic from paper — we can all start putting our coffee cups right in the paper recycling bin. 

A 100% recyclable paper cup is out there — and it’s time for Starbucks to be a leader in the transition to a more sustainable future for our planet. Taxpayers will thank them.

Sign our petition to send Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson an email and tell him to make a 100% recyclable cup. Learn more about the #BetterCup campaign in our Secret of the Starbucks Cup report.

Photo via Kurt Bauschardt on Flickr.