Responding in the Commons to a question from a Labour MP, minister Rory Stewart said that coffee cups would be “a very good thing to look at next”.
He said: “It is a huge problem—there are tens of millions of these things being produced and thrown away. Many cannot be recycled because of the way they are disposed of or because of their composition. The government have tackled plastic bags—I hope everybody in the House would agree that the plastic bag tax has been a success—and coffee cups seem to be a very good thing to look at next.”
A Defra spokesperson clarified that there were no plans to tax coffee cups.
This news comes after the recyclability of paper cups came under the spotlight this week. Chef and anti-waste campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, said that high street chains aren’t doing enough to recycle. He added that some are misleading the public over the green credentials of cups.
The Foodservice Packaging Association’s executive director Martin Kersh said: “Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘War on Paper Cups’ campaign swiftly followed by Defra Minister Rory Stewart’s announcement that coffee cups ’seem to be a very good thing to look at next’ has brought paper cup recyclability sharply into focus. The Foodservice Packaging Association welcomes the raising of this issue by Fearnley-Whittingstall as while great strides have been made to make paper cups recyclable a lack of infrastructure means the volume being recycled falls a long way short of what should be possible and UK businesses could be missing out on as the finest quality recycled paper and board annually.”
He added: “We accept there is no easy solution but it is possible to recycle cups and by having established working relationships with waste management companies and collectors, foodservice retailers and caterers, recyclers and purchasers of high quality recycled paper and board we are confident that through further collaboration a long term solution will be achieved. We would now urge waste management organisations to look even more closely at the potential offered by paper cups and work with us to realise this potential.”
Meanwhile, Simply Cups co-founder Peter Goodwin said that Simply Cups has been working collaboratively across the supply chain for almost two years to find a long term solution to the issue that less than 1% of discarded paper cups are being recycled.
He added that the lack of effective recycling has surprised brands and companies in the supply chain who have historically passed the problem down the line without asking what is actually happening to their waste.
“While the waste industry is often criticised for its inability to provide solutions for every waste stream, it should not be its responsibility alone to solve the problem, nor is it acceptable to lay the blame wholly at their door,” said Goodwin. “Product stewardship means that it is the responsibility of everyone in the supply chain – producers, users and brands – to ensure that the waste industry has the ability to extract the economic value it needs to ensure a commercially viable solution.”
He added: “It is now evident that brands can no longer use the recycling symbol as a defence mechanism to absolve responsibility but, instead, they should be engaging and collaborating with others in the supply chain in order to come up with workable solutions to tackle material segregation, collection and reprocessing.
“But, by the same token, this can only happen if the waste industry adopts a similar approach to engagement, ensuring that we have full collaboration across the entire product life cycle.
“The hardest part of recycling is not the logistics to collect the material, nor the technology to needed to perform the task but, rather, how to extract the value from waste once it has been (almost inevitably) contaminated.”
Simply Cups has collaborated with McDonald’s and James Cropper in a project to recycle cups into high quality paper.
Goodwin concluded: “The real question that needs to be asked is just how committed is everyone is to dealing with this issue and is there sufficient consumer demand to disrupt the status quo? Viable solutions are already available and so we would urge producers, users and brands to engage with us as soon as possible and take positive action.
“Simply Cups has set a target of recycling six million cups by end of 2016. This is tiny in comparison to the total number of cups in circulation and the ambitions must, therefore, reach much higher.”