MPs have called for a 25p charge to be added to the price of takeaway coffees to try and tackle single-use plastics.
Coffee drinkers use and throw away 2.5bn takeaway coffee cups every year in the UK – enough to stretch around the world five-and-a-half-times.
According to a report published by MPs on the environmental audit committee, only one in 400 of these cups is recycled – less than 0.25%.
By introducing an extra charge on the throwaway cups, MPs hope to change customer behaviour but also encourage coffee chains and cup manufacturers to explore new eco-friendly cup designs.
Dubbed a ‘latte levy’ the money raised from the 25p charge would be used to invest in reprocessing facilities.
MPs also proposed a ban on all throwaway coffee cups if they are not recyclable by 2023.
The committee also proposed better labelling of coffee cups to help address a widely-held assumption that the coffee cups are recyclable.
Although the disposable coffee cups are made with lots of cardboard, they are laminated with plastic which local authority recycling centres find difficult to process.
There are only three specialist recycling centres in the UK which can process disposable coffee cups.
Mary Creagh, the Labour MP who chairs the environmental audit committee said: “Coffee cup producers and distributors have not taken action to rectify this and the government has sat on its hands.”
Some coffee shops have experimented with discounts for customers who bring recyclable cups. Pret a Manger, for example, now offer customers 50p off the price of their coffee if they bring a reusable cup.
But the committee found that uptake of these offers was low, representing only 1-2% of coffee purchases.
They pointed at the plastic bag charge, which reduced plastic bag usage by more than 83% in the first year, as evidence that behaviour was more responsive to charges than discounts.
The Local Government Association claims that coffee cups are particularly problematic because many customers believe they can be recycled and put them in with paper recycling.
Sometimes, this can mean that paper recycling hauls are contaminated and have to be dumped in landfill.
MPs said: “It is unacceptable that coffee sellers are perpetuating customer confusion through their use of recycling labels and emphasis on the recyclability of coffee cups, despite the shockingly low recycling rate.”
In December, the committee expressed a desire to see more of the costs of dealing with plastic waste passed onto plastic producers.
Mary Creagh said: “Packaging producers don’t currently have to bear the full financial burden of recycling their packaging.”
She continued: “By reforming charges, the government can ensure that producers and retailers will have financial incentives to design packaging that is easily recyclable – or face higher compliance costs.”
The MPs want to charge suppliers of complex, hard-to-recycle plastics the most and firms using more simple, easy-to-recycle plastics, the least.
Designers of single-use plastics may be forced to give more importance to the recyclability of their products in future.
The committee also proposed a plastic bottle deposit scheme to protect the seas from the “devastating effects” of plastic pollution.
Ministers are thought to be consulting on a deposit scheme for bottles and on charges for single-use plastics.