UK Politics

Government has 'no plans' to tax coffee cups

Coffee cups Image copyright Getty Images

The government says it has no plans to tax coffee shop cups after a minister suggested it could repeat its "success" in cutting plastic bag waste.

Rory Stewart told MPs there was a "huge" problem with unrecyclable, plastic-lined paper cups.

He said the plastic bag tax had worked well and cups would be a "very good thing to look at next".

But Mr Stewart's department Defra released a statement saying there were "no plans" for a tax.

Campaigners say that disposable coffee cups handed out in their billions are "virtually impossible" to recycle despite major cafe chains claiming theirs are eco-friendly.


According to some estimates, fewer than 1% of the 2.5 billion paper and plastic cups used in the UK each year are recycled, leading to criticism of High Street cafes for stamping them with recycling logos.

Answering a Commons question from Labour MP Rob Marris, Environment Minister Rory Stewart said: "It's a huge problem and there are tens of millions of these things being produced and thrown away.

"As you have pointed out, many of these things cannot be recycled either by the way they're disposed or because of the composition of the cup.

"Having tackled plastic bags, which I hope everybody in the House would agree the plastic bag tax has been a success, coffee cups seem to be a very good thing to look at next."

Image caption Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is campaigning against waste

In October, England became the last of the UK's nations to bring in a 5p charge on plastic bags, aimed at reducing litter and environmental damage caused by retailers handing out billions of single-use carrier bags.

A Defra spokesman said: "While the minister acknowledged more needs to be done to recycle coffee cups, there are no plans to tax them."

Mr Stewart is to meet industry representatives to discuss ways of tackling the issue, but Defra would not say what these might include.

Incentive schemes

Disposable coffee cups can be difficult to recycle because most are made with a combination of paper and plastic.

There are just two specialist facilities in the UK that have the equipment to separate the materials.

Some coffee shop chains say they work to make recycling their cups easier and offer incentive schemes to encourage consumers to use their own.

A Starbucks spokesman said: "We are working closely with industry partners to crack the difficult problem of cup recycling.

"To incentivise environmentally friendly behaviour we offer a reusable cup discount of 25p on drinks if you bring your own reusable cup to our stores. This can be any reusable cup, not only a Starbucks one."

TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has said he is "delighted" that the problem of unrecycled coffee cups has attracted government attention.

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose #wastenot campaign has gathered more than 300,000 supporters, said Mr Stewart's intervention should "help focus the coffee companies' minds on finding a solution".