Starbucks trials 5p cup charge in bid to tackle plastic waste problem

Almost half of people said they would definitely carry a reusable cup to avoid the charge, company's research found

Starbucks’ announcement comes weeks after MPs called for a general 25p latte levy on disposable coffee cups
Starbucks’ announcement comes weeks after MPs called for a general 25p latte levy on disposable coffee cups

Starbucks has introduced a 5p charge for single-use cups in its central London locations in an attempt to help tackle a plastic waste epidemic plaguing the UK.

Customers who bring their own mug will not have to pay the extra 5p in 35 Starbucks branches for the duration of the three-month trial that begins on Monday. If it’s successful the company may roll it out to other outlets, the Seattle-based coffee giant said.

Starbucks and some other chains already offer discounts for people who bring a reusable cup but this is the first time a major coffee seller is charging extra for single-use cups in the UK.

Research has demonstrated that people are more likely to change their behaviour if a price difference is framed as an extra cost rather than a discount. The company is working with environmental charity Hubbub on the trial to assess how the charge impacts consumers’ choices.

“We’re hoping that this charge will remind customers to rethink their use of single-use plastic-lined cups, as it has with plastic bags,” said Simon Redfern of Starbucks Europe.

“We’ve offered a reusable cup discount for 20 years, with only 1.8 per cent of customers currently taking up this offer, so we’re really interested in working with Hubbub to see how this charge could help to change behaviour and help to reduce waste,” he added.

Starbucks’ own research found that almost half of people surveyed said they would definitely carry a reusable cup to avoid the charge.

Last month, Pret a Manger doubled the discount it offers for customers drinking from reusable cups to 50p. Starbucks already offers its own 25p discount.

Starbucks’ announcement comes weeks after MPs called for a general 25p latte levy on disposable coffee cups. They also called for all disposable coffee cups to be recyclable by 2023. The Independent subsequently launched its own Cut the Cup Waste campaign.

The UK throws away around 2.5 billion coffee cups every year, with less than 1 per cent being recycled.

Campaigners welcomed Starbucks’ announcement but said that individual coffee chains still need to do more to reduce their plastic footprint.

“A small charge is proven to be effective, so this is welcome, though it would be good to know what Starbucks’ plans are for shifting to non-plastics alternatives,” said Friends of the Earth waste campaigner Julian Kirby.

“We’ve seen from our very popular ‘Plastic Free Friday’ initiative that there is enormous appetite to stop this waste and Starbucks is joining an unstsoppable trend from cafes to supermarkets and entire communities by commiting to cut plastic; it’s not needed, it’s damaging to our environment and to wildlife, and more than ever it’s not wanted.”

Coffee cup discounts

Costa – Gives a 25p discount for customers with reusable cups.

Pret a Manger – Offers a 50p discount for customers with reusable cups. Pret is due to launch its own £3 cup later this year

Greggs – Customers with reusable cups get a 20p discount. The company sells Greggs-branded cups for £2.

Paul – Doubled its reusable discount from 10p to 25p last year and sells its own mugs for £3.50

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