Coffee Cups & the Latte Levy: Five Things You Need to Know

April 11, 2018

One topic that has been hot in the media recently is a supposed ‘Latte Levy’, which intends to make disposable cups cost an extra 25p to the customer. We’ve seen already that the single use plastic bag tax was a success, with retailers handing out 83% fewer bags, according to DEFRA. Could a Latte Levy give hope to the disposable cup debate?


In this piece we will inform you of the five things you need to know about the Latte Levy.


‘Almost none’ – Disposable cup recycling rates

Less than 0.25% of disposable cups are currently being recycled in the UK, due to there being only three waste plants that can actually process them. The other 99.75% end up going to landfill, incineration or as part of exported waste. The Government propose to tackle this by making the cups 25p each, and believe that realistically this could help us get to a point where all ‘disposable’ cups are no longer being disposed, with 2023 being the target for a 100% recycling rate.


The Government also suggested that if by 2023 there are still non-recyclable takeaway cups, these will be banned entirely.


Wait, only three UK waste plants can recycle them?

Disposable cups are made of paper, right? Whilst this is true, it’s not the paper that is the issue, it’s the layer of polyethylene coating that makes the cups watertight so that they can hold your drinks.


Coffee chains are quite happy to tell you that paper is easy to recycle, but they aren’t so transparent about the fact that only three UK waste plants currently have the technology required to separate the paper and plastic from disposable cups so that they can actually be recycled.


So, what alternatives are there?

Coffee chains are trying to educate and encourage customers to bring in their own reusable cups or thermos flasks, often offering discounts on coffee prices as an incentive. Costa offer a 25p discount, Starbucks sell reusable cups for £1, Cafe Nero give a double stamp (25p equivalent) and Pret a Manger give a 50p coffee discount, all making a good start to the proposed change.


Greggs, the bakery chain, sell a reusable cup for £2, which gives you one free drink and 20p off subsequent drinks, and since they do not have china mugs at all, it’s vital that their takeaway coffee culture is quickly addressed. Independent outlets commonly offer a percentage discount if you bring your own reusable cup, so be sure to ask when you go in.


Are there any problems with reusable cups?

Of course, the energy and resources required to make a reusable cup (or travel mug) are much greater than that of disposable paper and plastic cups. A ceramic mug should be used 300 times to break even in terms of energy consumption with plastic cups, 75 times with styrofoam and 30 times with paper.


For reusable plastic cups, they must be used around 100 times to become more energy efficient than a ceramic cup (read the scientific breakdown here).


This is not the only issue. The other is hygiene. Here are some good hygiene tips for your new reusable cup:

Wash your cup in warm soapy water as soon as possible after usage

Don’t leave leftover coffee in the cup

The longer you leave it unwashed, the more bacteria will be present

Buy a bamboo reusable cup, as this has natural antimicrobial properties


We’re not the only country with disposable cups. What are others doing about a Latte Levy?


Our neighbours in Ireland are proposing a €0.10 Latte Levy on takeaway cups to combat the 2 million disposable cups going to landfill every day

France banned disposable cups, cutlery and plates back in 2016, with the law coming into effect in 2020. Disposable items must then be compostable and made from at least 50% biologically-sourced materials

Germany are faced with a greater problem than the UK, with far more cups going to landfill or incineration. Their solution is the ‘Freiburg Cup’, a €1 reusable environmentally-friendly cup that are sold and washed by cafes, and can be used around 400 times.


What to do next?

Based on this information, we recommend you go and buy yourself a nice reusable cup, travel mug or thermos flask that you will be happy to use again and again.