MPs to relaunch inquiry on plastic bottles and coffee cups

MPs are reopening an inquiry into the environmental impact of waste from disposable coffee cups and plastic bottles as pressure builds on the UK Government to introduce new legislation.

The inquiry will investigate methods such as taxes and deposit return schemes as potential solutions to the UK’s waste problem. It follows on from a previous inquiry which was paused due to the General Election.

Commenting on the investigation relaunch, Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) chair Mary Creagh said: “The nature of our throwaway society can be seen first-hand on our litter-strewn beaches and in the dead mammals, seabirds and fish that wash up on them.

“Our inquiry will focus on the solutions to this problem, including using different materials, changing behaviours, improving our recycling methods and the establishment of bottle deposit return schemes.”

The news comes less than a fortnight after Scotland signalled its intentions to introduce a national deposit return scheme for drinks containers. The scheme will mirror parallel deposit return projects in Scandinavian countries such as Norway, where recycling rates of containers are now above 95%.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove recently called on the Government to introduce a deposit scheme “as soon as possible”.

The inquiry relaunch was welcomed by Greenpeace UK campaigner Louisa Casson, who said: “Introducing deposit return schemes couldn’t be more of an open goal for governments if the goalkeeper was helping to kick the ball in.

“Plastic pollution is a huge and growing issue that we simply can’t dawdle on – and deposit return schemes are a great way of reducing the plastic waste ending up on our streets, beaches and in the sea.”

Circular conundrum

Together, plastic bottles and coffee cups represent a significant circular economy conundrum for the UK: the equivalent of one in 400 of the seven million plastic bottles sold in Britain each day are recycled, with more than 6.98 million going to landfill or ending up in the environment.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 coffee cups are discarded every minute in the UK, but less than 1% are actually recycled, due to a plastic lining on the interior of the cups which can’t be collected by local councils.

As coverage of plastic waste has grown, driven by fresh CSR campaigns from the likes of Sky, so have discussions about the UK’s willingness to tackle the issue head on. The UK’s recycling rates for plastic bottles are flatlining at 57%, while other European nations are recording recycling rates for bottles at 98%.

Recent research from the Green Alliance suggested that incorporating reverse vending as part of a wider return deposit scheme in the UK could reduce one third of plastic seeping into the oceans.

Even bottlers are starting to warm to the idea. Drinks giant Coca-Cola has announced it supports testing a deposit return service for drinks cans and bottles, after previously claiming that it did not reduce packaging use or improve recyclability.

Retailers have ramped up efforts to increase recycling rates and explore innovative ways to reduce waste from disposable drinks packaging. Earlier this week, edie reported that Selfridges had teamed up with waste management firm Veolia and British papermaker James Cropper to reprocess disposable coffee cup waste into yellow shopping bags in a closed-loop system.

Evidence for the relaunched EAC inquiry can be submitted online before 5pm on 29 September.

George Ogleby

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