Latte levy: How other European countries are dealing with disposable coffee cups

As the UK moves towards action on non-recyclable beverage containers, other countries are taking steps in the same direction

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Sunday 07 January 2018 17:53 GMT
Latte levy: The plastic problem inside your coffee cup

MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee have recommended the Government introduce a so-called “latte levy” in the form of a 25p charge on disposable coffee cups bought by customers.

The recommendation formed part of a larger report laying out the environmental issues associated with these cups, and potential strategies for dealing with them.

Recycling disposable coffee cups – which are lined with non-biodegradable plastic – is essentially impossible in the UK as there are only three centres equipped to deal with them.

If all coffee cups are not made recyclable by 2023, the committee concluded that disposable coffee cups should be banned altogether.

The UK is moving towards action on the 2.5 billion coffee cups it gets through every year, and other European countries have already begun to take tentative steps in the same direction.


Talk of a similar latte levy being applied in Ireland began around the end of 2017.

The addition of about 10p to the price of a takeaway coffee is being considered as part of a selection of incentives to cut down on the use of disposable coffee cups and encourage uptake of reusable ones.

“As a society we discard an incredible 80 per cent of what we produce after a single use,” Irish environment secretary Denis Naughten told The Independent.

He said every day in Ireland, two million coffee cups are sent to landfill.

“International research shows that combining financial incentives, reusable alternatives and better messaging around environmental impact of single-use coffee cups all have a direct impact on consumer behaviour,” said Mr Naughten.

The Irish government is investigating the possibility of a nationwide scheme where customers could sign up in order to return their reusable cup to participating cafes.

In Roscommon, part of the environment minister’s own constituency, the ‘Rossie’ reusable cup has been launched as a pilot project, with cafes giving discounts to customers who use them.

“There is enormous potential for a nationwide scheme involving local authorities, businesses and cafe owners,” said Mr Naughten.

The Irish Green Party wants to go one step further, proposing as part of its waste reduction bill that an outright ban should be introduced on non-recyclable beverage containers in Ireland.

However, Mr Naughten noted that levying or banning items within the EU are complex processes.

“While I can fully appreciate the good intentions behind this proposal, as minister I also have a responsibility to ensure any such prohibition, if introduced, would not be in breach of the free movement provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,” said Mr Naughten.

An Irish government spokesman told The Independent that Mr Naughten intends to undertake a “research and consultation process” this year to explore future directions for waste management.


In 2016, France made headlines when it passed a law “banning” disposable cups, cutlery and plates.

The law, set to come into effect in 2020, will mean disposable items must be made from at least 50 per cent biologically-sourced materials that are compostable at home.

Most disposable coffee cups are currently non-biodegradable, and must be take away to specialised facilities in order to be recycled, only three of which exist in the UK.

The move is part of the Energy Transition for Green Growth – a French plan aimed at tackling climate change.

Environmental organisations and some politicians welcomed the ban, with municipal councillor and food waste campaigner Arash Derambarsh calling for it to be extended across Europe.

“This problem of recycling exists in all European countries,” he told The Independent.

“We have to pass the same law in all European countries to tackle this very important problem of waste.”

However, there were concerns that this too would violate European Union rules about free movement of goods, with packaging association Pack2Go Europe stating it would fight the new legislation.

“We are urging the European Commission to do the right thing and to take legal action against France for infringing European law,” said Pack2go Europe secretary general Eamonn Bates. “If they don’t, we will.”


According to the German Environmental Aid forum, in Germany the coffee cup problem exceeds that of the UK, with almost three billion disposable cups used every year.

In an effort to combat this problem, several local councils across the country have introduced their own reusable cups.

The “Freiburg Cup” has been introduced in around 80 venues across the German state of Baden-Württemberg.

These cups are designed for long-term use, with a suggested lifespan of 400 uses.

Cups are provided by councils, and cafes are responsible for distributing and washing them. They can be obtained from participating venues for a deposit of one euro.

Similar experiments have also taken place in the cities of Berlin, Tübingen and Rosenheim.

Although nowhere in Germany has gone as far as banning disposable coffee cups yet, in 2016 Hamburg became the first city to ban the pods used in certain coffee machines from government-run buildings.

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