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The UK government has rejected calls for a charge of 5p to be levied on the 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups sold each year by the major coffee chains.

Taking its inspiration from hugely successful 5p charge introduced on plastic carrier bags in England in October 2015,  a charge on disposable cups could really change people's attitudes to how they drink their take-away coffee.  The plastic bag charge has reduced England's shoppers' use of disposable carrier bags, which had an average useful life of 20 minutes, by about 85%.  Scotland (80% reduction) and Wales (70% reduction) have had similar successes with their 5p plastic bag charges.

The reason that disposable cups are such an issue is that although they may appear to be made from paper, they in fact have a thin plastic coating to stop them from leaking.  This layer of plastic makes up about 5% of each cup and makes recycling the cups very difficult.  In fact, it's estimated that at the moment, just 1 in 400 coffee cups are being recyled.  What's more, that plastic layer means that the cups take around 30 years to break down in a landfill.

A recent Cardiff University Study showed that the 5p plastic bag charge had made people more willing to accept other charges aimed at environmental protection, such as charging for disposable cups or single-use plastic drink bottles.

Another solution which could be explored would be to make it compulsory for takeaway food and drink outlets to use biodegradeable packaging.  This already exists, but is more expensive.  Those extra costs could be worked into the price of a drink, instead of a 5p per cup charge on non-recyclable drinks.

Earlier this year, the French government approved a new law making it compulsory for all disposable cups, plates and cutlery to be biodegradable from 2020 onwards.

Photo by Alpha

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