Starbucks' Latte Levy Is Being Used to Boost Cup Recycling Rates

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Public Domain. Unsplash – Methinks I smell a rat.

£1 million in grants will be divided among groups wanting to improve recycling facilities. But why should people have to compete for help in dealing with Starbucks' own trash?

It has been just over a year since Starbucks introduced its 5p 'latte levy' on disposable cups. The minuscule fine is meant to discourage customers from choosing a disposable cup and encourage them to bring their own, a further incentive being the 25p discount they receive if they bring a reusable cup.

The collected money goes into a Cup Fund held by Hubbub, an environmental charity that has outlined several different initiatives aimed at reducing single-use plastic use and pollution. Last summer Sami wrote about one of these latte levy-funded initiatives – taking children out on the Thames River to 'fish' for plastic.

On April 11, another initiative was announced. It is a series of grants between £50,000 to £100,000 to local groups wanting to introduce new large-scale cup recycling facilities in busy urban regions across the UK. Groups that are successful in their applications will receive money and guidance to improving cup collection, sorting them, and delivery them to specialized recycling facilities.

The initiative will increase the number of drop-off points for cup collection, which is something that people often struggle to find when they reach the end of their daily journeys, and provide clearer communication to customers about how to recycle effectively.

In the words of Trewin Restorick, CEO of Hubbub,

"We know that local authorities and building managers are committed to achieving their recycling targets but with increased strain on their budgets, investing in infrastructure is difficult. The launch of the Cup Fund means we will be able to collect cups in significant volumes in areas where there may not have been any drop-off points before."

This is all well and good, but why is there no criticism of the consumption model? Much of this waste problem could be alleviated immediately if (a) disposable cups were exorbitantly expensive, upwards of £2-3 apiece, or (b) they were banned outright for being unsustainable and archaic. People adapt quickly. Avid coffee-drinkers will start carrying reusable cups, just like they do car keys and phones. It becomes a habit in no time.

And doesn't it seem ridiculous that community groups have to compete for professional help with dealing with Starbucks' own trash? This is yet another example of Big Companies offloading responsibility for dealing with their own unsustainable and non-circular business models onto individual citizens. Starbucks should be held responsible for dealing with every single one of its cups, without anyone having to enter a competition to be deemed worthy of aid.

In the meantime, I suppose it's progress of a sort that people are concerned about where their disposables end up. But let's not lose sight of the bigger picture and how celebrating coffee cup recycling is a lot like bragging about good mileage on one's private plane (as a commenter once described it). If you really want to feel good about your coffee habits, bring your own or use an in-store ceramic mug. There's no other way around it.