UK set to throw away a third more disposable cups as overall plastic consumption surges

‘We need not just for individuals to take action but for businesses to make real changes and for the Government to regulate and get rid of this stuff – because it’s not necessary,’ say WWF

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Saturday 24 March 2018 01:41
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Latte levy: The plastic problem inside your coffee cup

The quantity of takeaway drink cups thrown away in the UK is set to rise by a third in the next 12 years, according to a new report.

The increase is part of a wider trend in which overall plastic waste will surge by 20 per cent, according to projections by WWF.

In response to the “alarming” figures, campaigners have called for the Government to take urgent action on plastic – such as the 25p “latte levy” backed by The Independent’s Cut the Cup Waste campaign.

As about two thirds of the UK’s plastic waste comes from packaging, the rise from 5.2 to 6.3 million tonnes by 2030 will be driven partly by an increase in demand for convenience foods, such as takeaway meals.

To arrive at these conclusions, the report’s authors produced models based on existing data while taking into account relevant factors such as rising GDP and the impact of new European legislation.

Their results are based on a “business-as-usual” scenario in which urgent action is not taken to deal with the nation’s plastic waste.

While the 25-year environment plan launched by Theresa May in January set out specific plastic waste targets, it was described as “fundamentally flawed” by environmental groups due to its lack of legal underpinning.

WWF is encouraging the public to make small changes in their lives to reduce their environmental footprint for Earth Hour, but says these results demonstrate a need for more systemic action.

“We can’t do it solely on people’s goodwill, we need people to make changes and we need to help people understand why and how they can make changes, but that won’t do it on its own,” Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate and energy at WWF UK, told The Independent.

What do people think of Starbucks charging 5p for coffee cups?

While plastic pollution is currently high on the national agenda, Mr Redmond-King said the data still suggests a rise in the appetite for single-use plastics among the British public.

“There are more people wanting to eat more conveniently – it becomes easier and easier with Deliveroo, Uber Eats and all of them,” he said.

UK consumers are among the biggest consumers in the EU of cotton buds, wet wipes and straws.

In recent months, the Government has pledged to fight what Chancellor Philip Hammond has called “the scourge of plastic”.

“We need not just for individuals to take action but for businesses to make real changes and for the Government to regulate and get rid of this stuff – because it’s not necessary,” said Mr Redmond-King.

Tanya Steele, chief executive of WWF, said: “We are polluting our world with plastic, suffocating our oceans and overwhelming our wildlife. The amount of plastic which the UK is throwing away is set to rocket by over a million tonnes by 2030 – that’s the equivalent of 87,000 more double-decker buses worth of plastic waste each year.

“We must act now – banning avoidable single-use plastic by 2025 and introducing incentives to help people and businesses make the right choices to reduce, reuse and recycle.”

Mr Redmond-King pointed to the 5p charge applied to single-use bags as a success story. The charge is widely heralded as resulting in a 90 per cent reduction in plastic bag use.

“I suspect it wouldn’t have been a 90 per cent reduction if we just relied on people doing the right thing,” said Mr Redmond-King.

The Independent’s Cut the Cup Waste campaign has been pushing for measures to deal with the problem of disposable coffee cups in particular, such as the 25p “latte levy” similar to the charge applied to plastic bags.

A latte levy was proposed by the Environmental Audit Committee in January, and while such action has been widely supported by environmental groups and the public, the idea has not been backed by ministers.

“The Government says it wants ideas to curb the UK’s plastic problem, but has rejected a levy on disposable cups despite strong public support. These findings show that is a terrible mistake,” said Tom Barns, campaigns manager at SumOfUs, which has been running its own campaign to address coffee cup waste.

“It’s time to get tough with companies who have made vast profits from a throwaway culture which is choking our oceans and killing our wildlife.

“That means firm measures which push companies to take responsibility for the damage they are causing, and quickly invest in sustainable alternatives, before it’s too late.”

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