Environmental Audit Committee publish report on disposable cups

05 JANUARY 2018

The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee has published its report into disposable coffee cups, the second report it has produced on disposable packaging.

The report considers the impact of the 2.5 billion cups that are used each year and the fact that at present, very few are recycled for two reasons: lack of collection facilities and unrecyclability.

The report makes a number of recommendations:

  • Sellers should apply accurate labelling on cups as to whether they can be widely recycled.
  • There should be a specific recycling target and modulated fee for cups within the PRN system with the revenue managed by a central body to increase recycling infrastructure.
  • The PRN system 50 tonne 'deminimis' should be reduced to 1 tonne.
  • There should be a 25p levy on disposable cups used to support council's cup recycling infrastructure.

Whilst it is clear that the EAC has received a wide range of evidence, it is a shame that it appears to have missed out on some opportunities and that some of its recommendations have not taken full consideration of the impact.

2.5 billion cups equates to approximately 40-50,000 tonnes. Whilst it is a highly visible waste, this represents around 0.4% of the total packaging placed on the market and just over 1% of the total unrecycled packaging waste. This suggests a disproportionate focus that does not justify special producer responsibility measures when there are other much larger packaging issues to consider such as the 1.2m tonnes of plastic.

There is no mention of lids in the report. Whilst these probably only account for around 7,000 tonnes a year, given the current concerns over plastic waste, these seems a strange ommission.

A 25p/cup levy on 2.5 billion cups would raise £625m, ten times the average total PRN revenue. Who would manage this central fund and how would it be distributed? 

Nobel House, Defra's main London office, has two Costa outlets that use large amounts of disposable cups each day and it is assumed that this is mirrored in Government offices across the UK. It seems a shame that the EAC has missed an opportunity to recommend to Government that it implements a trial across all these offices to test the impact of the 25p levy. The money raised could be used to fund proper recycling bins for cups and to test the collection infrastructure. 

This report is disappointing as it seems to reflect a political knee-jerk rather than a measured reflection of the issues caused by disposable cups within the wider context of waste and packaging waste in particular.