The Environmental Select Committee has today called for a 25p ‘Latte Levy’ on disposable coffee cups, using the money raised to improve the UK’s recycling binfastructure and reprocessing facilities. Currently, the UK throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year and only a small percentage of these are currently recycled. The Committee highlighted the impact of the plastic bag charge illustrating the positive impact that charges can make.

Hubbub is delighted that the Select Committee has raised the issue of disposable coffee cups. In April 2017 we launched the Square Mile Challenge in London which has recycled over 4 million cups, supported by all leading coffee retailers including Starbucks. We fully support efforts to encourage more people to use reusable cups and recognise that a charge could be an effective way of achieving this.

We believe that more testing is required to assess the impact a charge may have on changing behaviour. To understand how better this could work we are delighted to announce a partnership with Starbucks that will trial and promote a 5p cup charge in 20 - 25 central London stores

The trial will investigate the impact of a 5p charge on a paper cup, coupled with the prominent marketing of reusable cups, on customer behaviour. The trial will begin in February and the revenue donated will be used by Hubbub to run a comprehensive behaviour change study, broadening understanding as to how the public can be encouraged to choose reusable drink containers. Our joint findings will be shared with any interested parties before taking a view on next steps.

The partnership will provide on-the-ground evidence on the impact of the proposed charge and will help government respond to the Select Committee’s recommendation.

Based on the experience of running the Square Mile Challenge Hubbub believes that in addition to exploring the impact of the trial there are seven other steps that can be taken to boost recycling rates these are:

1) Government needs to create a coherent strategy for recycling on the go

Coffee cups are part of a larger challenge. People are eating and drinking more on the go resulting in the need to find environmentally sound solutions to deal with takeaway food packaging, plastic bottles and coffee cups. A piecemeal approach to this problem will cause complexity, increase environmental costs and cause confusion with the public. Government needs to create a coherent strategy which is easy for industry and public sector bodies to implement.

2) Collaboration is key

Creating effective campaigns needs collaboration at all levels. This includes manufacturers, retailers, recycling companies, local authorities, Business Improvement Districts, transport hubs and major employees. The effectiveness of the Square Mile Challenge was the result of Hubbub building these partnerships and then acting as a focal point for all marketing and promotional activities. Industry should identify and work with organisations that can facilitate this level of collaboration and create strong marketing campaigns to catch the public imagination.

3) Campaigns are needed at a city/town level

The recycling infrastructure varies across local authority areas. There is also a need to engage transport hubs and major employers at a local level. Given this requirement, the most effective campaigns will be at a city or town level replicating the approach taken by the Square Mile Challenge. Industry should set out a clear strategy detailing how they are going to extend campaigns across all the major conurbations in the UK.

4) With effective marketing and good recycling facilities, the public will respond

Both the campaigns we have run have demonstrated that with imaginative marketing, a consistent message and easily available recycling facilities the public will respond positively. They just need the opportunity to do so.


5) Recycling facilities need to be in places where coffee cups end up

Hubbub applauds steps taken by retailers to put more recycling facilities into stores and to boost recycling opportunities through kerbside collection, but this will only scratch the surface of the problem. Instead, more recycling facilities need to be in places where coffee cups tend to end up. Primarily these are in places of employment, travel hubs and public spaces.

As part of the Square Mile Challenge Hubbub created high profile, colourful bins that were placed on streets for recycling. These were essential in making the public aware that the campaign was being launched and that recycling coffee cups was a possibility. However, the contents of the bins were quickly contaminated with a wide range of other materials and they also created litter. These bins are an important part of a campaign launch but are not a long-term solution.

6) Industry needs to close the loop

There is no point collecting coffee cups for recycling if there is no end market for the materials collected. This is increasingly relevant as China is cutting the waste materials it will take from the UK. The #1MoreShot campaign demonstrated that coffee cups can be recycled in the UK and turned into a range of new recycled products. Industry needs to boost this circular approach by looking to purchase more of these products using them to replace the use of virgin materials.

7) Coffee cups need to be redesigned

The reason coffee cups are hard to deal with is that they are made of plastic fused onto wood fibre. Separating these materials is difficult and expensive. Industry needs to find a better long-term solution that provides a functional cup that is appealing to the public but which does not create problems with disposal.

Need a reminder of why coffee cups are so hard to recycle? Check out this vlog: