The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) today (9 March) published the Government’s response to its inquiry on coffee cup packaging, which suggested that a 25p “latte levy” would help to reduce their use and help to fund recycling measures.

The Government’s response suggests that coffee shops should offer discounts for customers with reusable cups, instead of a levy on disposable cups.

But this idea was rejected by EAC Chair Mary Creagh: “Evidence to our inquiry demonstrated that charges work better than discounts for reducing the use of non-recyclable materials – as was the case with the plastic bag charge.

“By choosing to favour voluntary discounts for reusable cups, the Government is ignoring the evidence about what works.”

The Government also dismissed the EAC’s call for an outright ban on all disposable cups by 2023, should all other measures fail to boost recycling levels of cups.

Targets should be “challenging, but realistic”, the Government’s response claimed. “100% recycling from collection is unobtainable as there will always be contamination in the waste stream – either from the beverage itself, or from other items disposed of alongside the cup. We need to ensure clearer consumer messaging on where and how products should be recycled.”

The Government did recognise the need for reform of the producer responsibility system that raises the cost on cups that are difficult to recycle, although its response set out no planned measures.

“Our report recommended practical solutions to the disposable packaging crisis,” Creagh said. “The Government’s response shows that despite warm words they plan no real action.”

System reform

In related news, the National Audit Office (NAO) will scrutinise the Government’s oversight of the Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system after the EAC raised concerns that the scheme could be subject to fraud and non-compliance.

The PRN system requires companies handling any form of packaging to ensure that a proportion is recycled. They meet these obligations by purchasing recovery notes from UK recycling companies or firms that export waste abroad.

But recent inquiries from the EAC have raised concerns about the lack of transparency over how recovery note money is spent and the lack of incentives for eco-design. Concerns also exist around the treatment of export waste once it reaches its destination.

Creagh said the NAO review would enable her Committee to asses whether the Government has taken a robust approach to ensure high levels of recycling in the UK.

“Packaging waste is contributing to the ever-growing levels of plastic pollution in the UK and abroad,” she said.

“PRNs are intended to make companies do their bit for recycling, but there is significant concern that PRNs are distorting the market in favour of exports rather than reprocessing in the UK.”

The review comes at a time of deep uncertainty for the UK’s packaging system. Earlier this week, a damning report suggested the packaging producers are significantly overestimating the amount of plastics packaging waste recycled across the country.

The Eunomia research also criticized the PRN system, claiming that it delivers compliance to the recycling target at the “lowest possible cost to industry”.

George Ogleby

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