Solo households are thought to be leading the way in sustainable living. While we wait for government and industry to take much-needed action, a simple change in our own habits will help make a difference to reduce landfill waste caused by our love for takeaway drinks. If you are accustomed to a regular hot drink from your favourite coffee shop, here are 8 reasons why we should invest in a reusable travel cup.
8 REASONS TO CARRY A TRAVEL CUP
1 The problem is HUGE!
In the UK we throw away some 7 million disposable coffee cups every single day—and very few of them are recycled. They’re piling up in landfills all over the country.
An estimated 2.5 billion cups are discarded each year, and only 1 in 400 are recycled. Even though disposable cups are made almost entirely of paper, they’re not 100% paper, and therein lies the problem.
2 Most disposable cups are not easily recycled
Most disposable cups are lined on the inside with a very thin layer of plastic, which serves to make the cup waterproof. This layer is tightly bonded to the interior of the paper cup and is difficult to remove during the recycling process. The fact is, only a very few specialised facilities in the UK can remove the plastic, so most cups don’t find their way to recycling plants.
3 Mounting impact and pressure on landfill
Let’s get real. Disposable coffee cups may be easy to throw away but they cannot easily be recycled. The end result is that disposable coffee cups contribute 25,000 tonnes of waste to landfills every single year and to the 338 tonnes of recycling waste sent to landfill last year.
4 Government and industry solutions will take time to come into force
The Scottish Government announced an intention to review and find a Scottish solution to ‘throwaway culture’ and the use of disposable cups and plastics in a holistic way, guided by the mantra Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The House of Commons is also looking into the issue through The Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry. So far, devolved and national proposals may include levies from 5 pence to 25 pence per purchase. Labelled the ‘latte levy’, there may also be the expectation that all disposable cups can be recycled by 2023.
However, it could be years before we see a UK wide solution to the problem and the question is, is government able to solve the problem without the contribution of industry and consumers?
5 Proposed levies will not solve the problem
Will levies and discounts address the real issue? Even if people pay a few pence more for their coffee, the disposable cups will continue to pile up. One study estimates charging extra for disposable coffee cups could reduce annual use of the cups by around 300 million. But that still leaves well over 2 billion cups a year continuing to pile up, so charging more for cups doesn’t even begin to solve the problem. The sheer number of cups that are used every year, and the fact that most will not be recycled, means 300 million cups is a drop in the bucket.
6 Much needed solutions create new problems to be solved
If reducing and recycling can’t solve the problem, perhaps a new kind of plastic can. UK manufacturer Biome Bioplastics announced the development of a new plant-based plastic that works just as well as conventional plastic but is fully recyclable and compostable.
Slowly being introduced mainly through independent coffee shops, it has been suggested the UK currently lacks the capacity the deal with biodegradable cups because of inadequate composting facilities. So, while new materials are being developed, when it comes to the recycling chain and journey, we need to find and accommodate new solutions for recycling.
7 Some chains offer a discount when you bring a travel cup
Some coffee chains are helping encourage reusable cup use. For instance, Starbucks, Costa and Pret A Manger customers can now save 25p on their coffee when bringing their own reusable cups, rather than using a disposable one. Central to the solution, industry could be moving faster to resolve the problem. Being compelled to introduce recyclable cups will help, but we are waiting for the day when easily recyclable cups are introduced to all stores.
8 It’s time for change. Be part of it and make a difference
Since the issue of disposable coffee cups flew high in our awareness at the turn of the year, sales of reusable travel cups has soared! Perhaps incentivised by the prospect of a 25 pence ‘latte levy’ or wanting to take action, it shows we can do small things helping to make a big difference.