I’m ready to be proven wrong by the ‘latte levy’

I know what lifestyle you are trying to signal with your Café Nero cup. You’re saying: ‘I am a busy metropolitan person, I simply do not have time to make my own coffee.’ The thing is, you do, you’re just a baby adult who needs to have your hot milky drinks made for you by other people

Kirsty Major
Wednesday 17 January 2018 22:59
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Latte levy: The plastic problem inside your coffee cup

In my vision of hell, there’s a special place for people who drink from disposable coffee cups. In Bosch-inspired dreams, small imps dressed in Costa uniforms frisby coffee-cup lids at to-go cup drinkers’ heads for a length of time determined by the aggregate number of coffee cups they’ve drunk from, multiplied by 30 years (the time it takes for one to decompose). As for people who use to-go cups at their static work desks (just think about that for a moment), you don’t want to know what is in store for you.

I know what lifestyle you are trying to signal with your Café Nero cup. You’re saying: “I am a busy metropolitan person, I simply do not have time to make my own coffee.” The thing is, you do, you’re just a baby adult who needs to have your hot milky drinks made for you by other people.

Yes, it takes a bit of time and effort to remember to carry around a reusable cup, or when you’re in work to bring a cafetiere and a mug. But it also takes decades for a disposable cup to decompose. Each year there are 2.5 billion coffee cups languishing in landfills, of which we’re running out of. Even the ones which claim to be recyclable technically aren’t as they require specialist, non-conventional recycling plants of which there are only two in the UK.

My initial reaction to The Independent’s findings that 55 per cent of our readers support the introduction of a 25p tax on a single disposable cup, and 55 per cent say they would be happy to bring their own reusable cups, wasn’t one of hope.

Pessimistically, I assumed that while people might virtue signal in a survey, bad habits are hard to break. There are even economic theories to back me up: I guessed that the additional tax wouldn’t affect what economists call “price elasticity”, that is, how responsive consumer demand is to a change in price. The 25p charge is a small percentage increase of their income, so customers would happily pay the new price. There is also no other substitute to plastic-lined cups at a similarly low price; consumers would happily cough up the small charge instead of buying a more expensive reusable cup. And after all, if they’re paying £3.50 for a cappuccino in the first place, budgeting isn’t their main concern – feeling like a fancy-ass is.

However, as my colleague Ben Chu wrote when the 5p plastic bag charge was introduced, price signals aren’t all consumers pay attention to. Five pence isn’t much money on top of a weekly shopping bill, but when it was introduced in October 2016, single-use bag consumption dropped by a whopping 85 per cent. Before the change was introduced, awareness-raising campaigns had caused shoppers to bring reusable bags to the shops, and the charge nudged people towards a behaviour they already were inclined to follow. Then, as more people began to carry tote bags and “bags for life”, others followed thanks to herd mentality.

I hope that the “latte levy” follows the same route, and that deep down in their hearts single-use coffee cup slurpers really do want to ditch the plastic – they just need a push in the right direction. Deep inside each trash generator is an eco-warrior waiting to be released. Pret cashiers asking them if they want their coffee in a disposable or reusable cup will be the magic incantation to set them free. And just know, when it does come in and you still use single-use plastic cups, I will be judging you even harder.

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