End of ‘latte levy’ sparks calls for action
A huge sigh of relief was heard among operators last week as the Government said “no” to the Environmental Audit Committee’s request for a 25p ‘latte levy’ on disposable coffee cups. However, what is coming through loud and clear is that there’s a growing and strong movement to reduce waste and fuel reusables.
Managing director of Esquires Coffee, Doug Williamson, is calling on the Government to take a bold and brave position on the plastic bottle, which he says make up one-third of the pollution in the oceans and seas.
“Plastic bottles have a far more negative impact on the environment than paper coffee cups.... Don’t get me wrong, the paper cups need to be addressed and we at Esquires are doing our part ahead of the big chains,” he told Coffee Business World. “But one must question why the Government is not attending immediately to what is clearly a far greater and longer lasting problem.”
Williamson, who described the ‘latte levy’ as pretty uninventive and “just a tax” by another name, called on Theresa May to embrace David Palmer-Jones’s (CEO of Suez recycling and recovery) suggestion to impose a refundable deposit scheme on plastic bottles, similar to what’s being done in Canada, Germany and the Netherlands.
“Think about how the homeless people or pensioners might earn a bit of money collecting, sorting and returning these recyclables… and while we’re at it, let’s put the same deposit scheme in place for aluminium cans,” said Williamson referring to the £35m worth of aluminium being sent to landfill in the UK each year.
Hubbub, which is trialling the 5p ‘latte levy’ with Starbucks, runs the SquareMileChallenge - a scheme that has successfully recycled more than 4m cups from the heart of London “showing that these cups can be recycled if the infrastructure is in place”.
Co-founder Gavin Ellis is now urging the industry to replicate the Challenge in other areas of the country. The SquareMileChallenge has (working in collaboration with 35 businesses) created 117 places around London’s Square Mile to recycle coffee cups with bins using the yellow coffee cup logo acting as a constant reminder to consumers to dispose of their cups responsibly.
Ellis said: “Hubbub applauds the spotlight that the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is continuing to place on the environmental impact of our throwaway society.”
However, he added: “It is disappointing that the Government has ruled out its recommendation of a ‘latte levy’ before understanding its potential to reduce the use of disposable cups, as we know that all evidence to date has suggested that simply offering a discount to consumers who use a reusable cup has resulted in very little change in behaviour. We are working closely with Starbucks to see what impact a trial 5p latte levy has and will be sharing these results in June.”
While the Government has rejected the EAC’s call for a ‘latte levy’ and a total ban on disposable cups by 2023, favouring instead voluntary measures of discounts for reusable cups and voluntarily anti-litter labelling, it has welcomed the ‘Paper Cup Manifesto’. The manifesto is a joint initiative from the Foodservice Packaging Association and the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group (PCRRG), which is committed to ensuring the UK population has access to information and schemes to sustainably recycle paper cups by 2020.
Costa was the first to sign up to the PCRRG’s Paper Cup Manifesto and offers customers a 25p discount to customers using a reusable cup in store. “We also have the largest in-store recycling scheme in over 2,200 stores. Customers can leave or return their cup to a Costa store (any brand) and we guarantee to recover and recycle them,” said a Costa spokesperson.
“Costa was pleased to take part in the EAC’s inquiry and welcomes the response from Government. Whilst driving change through a number of UK wide initiatives, including 25p off when using a reusable cup in store and the largest in-store recycling scheme, which has so far recovered and recycled over 15m cups, we recognise the serious need to reduce the use of takeaway cups and increase recycling rates further.
The spokesperson continued: “As the Government notes, the issue must be addressed with a mix of measures including driving change in consumer behaviour, improving the UK’s waste and recycling infrastructure and encouraging producers to develop packaging that is recyclable by design. We look forward to working with the Government to deliver the right solutions.”
At the other end of the retail scale, smaller independents also welcomed the news.
John Green, managing director of Traders Coffee Bay, roasters and machine suppliers to the trade and operators of two café concepts, said he believed common sense had prevailed. “There’s a tendency in this country to over-react to things and the introduction of a 25p levy would have destroyed a lot of smaller cafés. It is good to have biodegradable cups and to end the excessive waste, but this would have been like throwing the baby out with the bath water.”
Green added that like most operators, he too was looking to switch to biodegradable cups as quickly as possible, but it was taking time to find suppliers with the style and size of cup required.
Frank Green, the Australian-based designers and manufacturers of the SmartCups - recycling cups with built-in CafePay technology – is set to be launch SmartCups in the UK later this year. The head of business development and sales Alexandra Summers told Coffee Business World: “We know from our research and experience that consumers are on board with creating change. The problem in the past was that we were under the impression that throwing something into the recycling bin meant it got recycled. The latte levy discussion in itself has raised awareness of this issue - that disposable coffee cups can’t be recycled - to the point where we believe consumers can’t and won’t want to ignore it anymore.
“Recycling has to be the last resort and over the past few months, we have noted a huge lift in new customers confirming that this message has cut through. We believe providing superior alternative solutions to disposables that continue to innovate in form and function will continue this momentum of positive behavioural change resulting in a better future for all of us.”
- Doug Williamson is a member of European Coffee Expo’s Steering Panel.
- Traders Coffee Bay will be exhibiting at European Coffee Expo at London’s Olympia, May 22-23, on Stand F13. To visit the show, register here.
- For more information, refer to Viewpoint: Hubbub 06/02/18 and Viewpoint: Martin Kersh on the ‘Latte Levy’ 23/01/18.