Starbucks will be the first UK coffee chain to trial a “latte levy” – a 5p charge on takeaway coffee cups – under plans that aim to reduce the overuse and waste of 2.5bn disposable cups every year.
In the latest offensive in the war against plastic waste, the chain said it hoped the move, starting on Monday, would help change behaviour and encourage customers to switch to reusable cups instead.
In the three-month trial, consumers buying hot drinks in takeaway cups in 35 selected London branches of Starbucks (including the City and West End) will have to pay an extra 5p. Baristas across the chain will also offer customers drinking in store a ceramic cup, cutting paper use further.
Its research, published on Monday, revealed that almost half (48%) of consumers said they would definitely carry a reusable cup to avoid paying the extra 5p.
The trial is being carried out with the environmental charity Hubbub, which will receive the proceeds of the levy and use it to fund further research.
In January, MPs on the environmental audit committee called for 25p to be charged on top of the price of a hot drink, as concerns grow over coffee cup wastage. In the government’s 25-year environment plan released that week, Theresa May announced a call for evidence into charges for single-use items.
Disposable cups cannot be recycled by normal systems because they are made from cardboard with a tightly bonded polyethylene liner that is difficult to remove. As a result, just one in 400 cups are recycled – 0.25%. Half a million coffee cups are dropped as litter each day in the UK.
Although some coffee shops offer discounts for customers who bring their own cup, uptake of these offers remains low, at only 1 to 2% of purchases. Yet the impact of the plastic bag charge – which reduced bag usage by more than 83% in the first year – showed consumers were more responsive to a charge than a discount.
“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, vice-president of communications at Starbucks Europe. “We’ve offered a reusable cup discount for 20 years, with only 1.8% 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.”
The trial comes after financial incentives to encourage consumers to use reusable coffee cups have had disappointing results. In 1998 Starbucks was the first coffee chain in the UK to offer users of reusable cups a discount – 10p – before upping it to 25p in 2008. In 2016 it doubled this to 50p, but take-up remained low and it is now back to 25p.
Earlier this month Pret a Manger doubled its discount to 50p on all hot drinks bought by customers with reusable cups, and is planning to launch its own reusable cup later in the year.
In 2017, Hubbub led the successful Square Mile challenge campaign that recycled 4m cups from the City of London in nine months.
The Hubbub co-founder Gavin Ellis said: “Previous studies have shown that adding a charge on single-use cups is more effective than money off with a reusable cup. We’re excited to be working on this initiative with Starbucks to find out if this is the case on the high street and to discover what else will encourage people to use reusable cups.”
Starbucks offers a 25p discount for customers who bring in a reusable mug or tumbler. Its own costs £1.
The largest chain, Costa, will take 25p off for any reusable cup for hot and cold barista-served drinks (excluding stores in Northern Ireland and concessions stands in petrol stations). Its own reusable cups cost £3.
Pret a Manger doubled its discount to 50p on all hot drinks bought by customers with reusable cups, and it is planning to launch its own reusable cup later in the year.
Bakery chain Paul has recently more than doubled its reusable cup discount – from 10p to 25p – for customers ordering any hot drink. Its own reusable mug costs £3.50.
Greggs will refill reusable cups but will only give a 20p discount to customers handing over the chain’s own cup (£2 each).