The ‘Latte Levy’: A Small Price to Pay to Save our Planet

A charge, nicknamed the ‘latte levy’, is being trialled by Starbucks, that will see customers charged 5p for the use of a disposable takeaway cup. The charge is part of a plan to reduce the number of disposable takeaway cups that we use, currently estimated at 2.6 billion per year. The move began in 35 of the chain’s London stores. Customers will pay a set price for their drink, with a 5p charge added if the customer chooses to use a disposable takeaway cup. Proceeds will be donated to an environmental charity.

Disposable cups used in chains like Starbucks, Costa, and Caffè Nero cannot currently be recycled. They are made from cardboard with a polyethene liner (keeping it liquid-tight) which are difficult to separate. As a result, recycling these cups is extremely difficult. There are few plants in the UK that can recycle them so just one in 400 cups is currently recycled. Clearly, the UK’s coffee addiction, which sees half a million coffee cups binned each day, is very damaging to the environment.

Our disposable cup problem needs to be tackled. The environmental impact it is having is astronomical. These cups are just a small part of our plastic problem. Both the manufacture of plastic and its destruction through incineration are polluting to our air, water, land, and wildlife. Plastic cannot be digested by the animals who regularly consume it, due to its pollution in their habitats. It also does not biodegrade, so will be present in landfills and ecosystems for many years. Reducing single-use plastic products, like takeaway coffee cups, can help to reduce this damaging impact we are having on the Earth.

There are already schemes in place in many coffee chains and smaller shops that reward customers for their use of a reusable cup. Chains like Starbucks and Pret a Manger offer a drink discount when a reusable cup is used, whereas Caffè Nero provides customers with double loyalty points. Pret a Manger recently doubled their discount, from 25p to 50p, in a bid to encourage its customers to bring reusable cups and cut waste. Despite these efforts to reward customers, the use of reusable cups remains low, with hopes that a charge will be more effective than a discount.

A charge, rather than a discount, has proved to be a lot more effective in tackling issues like this in the past. The plastic bag charge, introduced in October 2015, demonstrates the power a charge can have in comparison to a discount. Since its introduction, the 5p levy has seen a reduction of almost 90% in their use. Its hoped that a similar result could be seen with coffee cups, as an attempt is made to tackle our throwaway culture. Simon Redfern of Starbucks commented that the company hopes the charge will ‘remind customers to rethink their use of single-use plastic-lined cups, as it has with plastic bags’.

Something needs to be done about the country’s dangerous addiction to single-use plastic. However, there are doubts whether a rather insignificant 5p charge will have the impact Starbucks hopes.

Eleanor Smith


(Image courtesy of Sky News)