Switch disposable coffee cups for reusables, urge campaign groups

International coalition of NGOs is calling for an end to the throwaway culture after the success of a plastic bag charge shows a similar charge on coffee cups could work too

Coffee cups in a street rubbish bin in central London
The billions of cups thrown away globally every year are harmful to people, forests, water and the global climate,” say campaign groups. Photograph: Andrew Aitchison/Getty Images

The billions of disposable coffee cups thrown away each year globally should be replaced with reusable ones because they are a waste of resources and harm forests, an international coalition of NGOs has urged.

The call comes as a study by Cardiff University said that the plastic bag charge in England had been so successful that it showed a charge on coffee cups in the UK could work too.

The Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a group of 140 environment and social NGOs from 28 countries launched its ‘cupifesto’ on Thursday calling for the cups to be curbed.

“Billions of throwaway cups are used globally every year. This is wasteful and harms people, forests, water and the global climate,” the groups, which include Greenpeace, WWF and Global Witness, said.

Last month, the Liberal Democrats wrote to environment secretary, Andrea Leadsom, arguing that the success of the bag charge meant a 5p charge should be added to the 2.5bn coffee cubs thrown away each year in the UK.

Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson, Kate Parminter, said: “It’s a disgrace that 7m cups are thrown away every day, mostly not recycled, and yet we simply turn a blind eye.

“That’s why we introduced a 5p charge on disposable cups at our recent conference, which caused a significant increase in use of reusable cups and reduced waste.”

It was revealed earlier this year that only 1 in 400 coffee cups are recycled because they are made of a difficult-to-recycle mix of paper and plastic. That prompted calls for a charge on takeaway cups by prominent figures including chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the then-environment minister, George Eustice.

The Green party’s Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb said: “the next challenge is to make disposable coffee cups actually recyclable. People think these cups are recyclable but they’re not, and a charge similar to that for plastic bags could dramatically reduce the number that end up in landfill as waste.”

But the government has said it has no plans to force coffee shops to put a charge on cups.

The Cardiff research showed that the bag charge gave people in England an increased environmental awareness, and greater willingness to accept other waste policies too, such as a 5p charge on plastic bottles.

“The success of the plastic bag charge in effectively changing plastic bag use and increasing support for other charges to reduce waste suggests that similar policies could also be successfully implemented, such as a deposit return scheme on plastic bottles or a charge on disposable coffee cups,” the authors wrote.

But lead author Prof Wouter Poortinga conceded that a coffee cup charge would be trickier. “It’s not exactly the same. It’s easier to adapt to a bag charge by bringing your own bag than by bringing your own cup. You have to find ways around the hassle factor,” he said.

The industry has established a Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group (PCRRG) which is looking at significantly increasing paper cup recycling rates.

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