The latte levy has failed. So what now for the UK’s war on plastic?

11th March 2018 | Recycling

The government’s “war on plastic” came to an abrupt halt this week when it decided not to introduce a 25p levy on disposable coffee cups. It will instead be relying on voluntary action from retailers, rejecting calls from the environmental audit committee to crack down on single-use cups.

What we’re left with is an increasingly muddled policy on plastic waste at a time when experts are calling on policymakers and businesses to take definitive action. So how did we get here? In November, chancellor Philip Hammond vowed to “attack” the “scourge” of single use plastics. The proposed consultation is yet to get underway, and environment secretary Michael Gove was recently accused of stalling on a plastic bottle scheme designed to reduce the 5.5 billion not recycled every year.

Latte Levy

This inaction is confusing in light of the success reducing carrier bags – with the 5p charge about to be rolled out to all shops – and banning microbeads, which clog up the stomachs of sea creatures and kill them.

Plastic cups can’t be recycled because of a tightly-bonded polyethylene liner which stops cardboard getting wet. There are only three recycling plants in the UK that can separate the plastic from paper – none of which are part of the standard system. Most people don’t know this, so their cups pile up at recycling bins headed for plants that can’t process them: plasticised cups then end up contaminating other paper waste which also has to be scrapped as landfill. Just one in four hundred cups is recycled. Two and a half billion are thrown away as litter every year – that’s about 5,000 a minute.

MPs have accused companies of perpetuating consumer ignorance. In fact Costa and Starbucks have introduced recycling bins in their shops which are then sent to one of three specialist facilities (James Cropper Plc, ACE UK and Veolia). Yet the fact that only in-store bins can be used hasn’t been well communicated, and while Starbucks said on Friday it would trial a 5p charge on cups in 20 London cafes, this is hardly game changing.

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