A call for single-use coffee cups to be banned in the UK by 2023 — if the industry can’t hit a 100% target for recycling them — has been rejected by the House of Commons.

The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee made the recommendation to the House of Commons in January, in an effort to cut down on the huge amount of single-use items disposed of in the UK every year. 

Some 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups are thrown out every year in Britain — but just one in every 400 are recycled, leading to over 30,000 tonnes of coffee cups ending up in the bin annually. 

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Coffee cups can’t be recycled through the usual systems, because each cup contains a tightly bonded polyethylene liners that paper mills don’t currently accept. 

Mary Creagh, chair of the Audit Committee, said Britain's single-use lifestyle is having a “devastating impact on our streets, beaches, and seas.” 

“Our report recommended practical solutions to the disposable packaging crisis,” Creagh, a Labour MP, said. “The government’s response shows that despite warm words they plan no real action.” 

The government, however, said it was “wrong to say government is not taking decisive action.”

Read more: This Coffee Chain Is the First in the UK to Charge a 'Latte Levy' for Disposable Cups

“Targets should be challenging, but realistic,” it said, in a response published by the audit committee on Friday. “100% recycling from collection is unobtainable as there will always be contamination in the waste stream — either from the beverage itself, or from other items disposed of alongside the cup.” 

“We have set out our commitment to the environment in our 25-year plan, published in January, as we are looking at further ways to reduce avoidable waste and recycle more as part of our resources and waste strategy,” said a spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Meanwhile, the committee’s recommendation to impose a 25p “latte levy” on single-use coffee cups was also questioned by the government. 

The “latte levy” would work in a similar way to the plastic bag tax, where customers are charged for using bags from retailers. But ministers said it would be better for shops to offer voluntary discounts, to incentivise customers to bring their own cups.

Read more: PG Tips Is Going Plastic Free With Biodegradable Tea Bags

The BBC reported that studies suggest, however, that consumers are more likely to respond to extra charges than they are to discounts. 

On the latte levy, the government said: “We agree with the committee’s point on waste hierarchy and we would also like to see a significant reduction in the use of disposable coffee cups. Clearly, the 5p single-use plastic bag charge has had a big impact and far fewer are being sold.” 

“So these types of incentives can change consumer behaviour and this is something we could consider amongst other policy options,” it said.

It added that coffee cups make up 0.7% of total paper packaging waste in the UK, and said “it is important to look at the packaging and waste management system as a whole.” 

Read more: This Major UK Supermarket Chain Just Pledged to Be Totally Plastic Free by 2023

Many major coffee retailers are already taking action — with Starbucks being the first to announce its own latte levy, charging customers 5p in 35 London outlets for a 3-month trial with the proceeds going to environmental charity Hubbub. 

The trial was launched in February alongside a study that found 48% of Starbucks customers said they would carry a reusable cup to avoid the 5p charge. 

Meanwhile, Pret a Manger offers customers a 50p discount for bringing their own reusable cups; Costa Coffee and Starbucks give a 25p discount; and Greggs gives a 20p discount. 

The government said it supported these decisions, adding it “would like to see this service offered by all businesses selling disposable coffee cups.” 

Read more: The Queen Just Banned All Plastic Straws and Bottles From the Royal Estate

But Creagh said the government response puts the onus for recycling on voluntary action, and that “consumers deserve the know if their coffee cup will be recycled or not.” 

The committee also recommended that cup labelling should make it clear whether they could be recycled. A suggestion that ministers also decided against, leaving label decisions in the hands of producers. 

It comes after the government also decided against introducing a plastic bottle deposit scheme, following a consultation last autumn by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) — the results of which have not yet been published. 

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Defend the Planet

Outright Ban on Disposable Coffee Cups Rejected by UK Government

By Imogen Calderwood