Disposable Coffee Cups

Dec 18, 2018

Early in 2018 we began hearing rumblings about the concept of a ‘latte levy’. It followed on from a report by the House of Commons Environmental Committee ( ‘Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups’, Jan 2018). The report highlighted the following:

• around 2.5 billion coffee cups are used and thrown away each year in the UK (around 6.8 million per day!)

• each day around 500,000 of these cups are littered causing a blight on the environment

• many people mistakenly think that disposable cups are widely recycled and dispose of them in on-street recycling bins

• a recommendation was made for the government to impose a minimum 25p levy on disposable cups.

The numbers themselves are staggering. The 2-5 billion cups are enough to stretch around the world five and a half times. However, just 0.25% are recycled, that’s only 1 in every 100 cups.

Disposable coffee cups are made from paper and lined with plastic, which makes them waterproof. This plastic lining cannot be removed by most recycling facilities. Not only are large amounts of these cups making into our landfill, but those disposed of in on-street recycling bins causes a waste contamination issue.

It’s now twelve months since this report was published, so what has happened in the meantime and what can we do next? In the most recent budget the chancellor decided against the latte levy, arguing that such a tax would “not at this point deliver a decisive shift from disposable to reusable” packaging. There has been a move within the coffee industry to address the disposable cup issue. We’ve attended a member of coffee festivals this year where single use cups were banned, and industry giants Costa have committed to recycling half a billion coffee cups per year by 2020, though it remains to be seen whether this will be achieved. It seems likely that long term solutions will be found at a local and individual level.

At Carvetii we’ve been aware of the coffee cup issue for a number of years and have looked for ways to improve the situation within our customer base. We have always believed that a diverse solution is the only way to fully address this problem. It will require the combined efforts of Government, local councils, businesses and consumers to ensure we make more than a dent in disposable cup usage. Here’s our take on the options available to us:



In other words take time out to enjoy a ‘sit in’ coffee on a more regular basis. As well as reducing the use of takeaway cups you will probably end up spending more on each visit. Maybe not so good on the purse strings but that extra spend will benefit your local independent coffee shop.





Increasingly we are seeing more and more people purchasing a reusable cap, allowingthem to enjoy a takeaway coffee without using a disposable cup. For those who have a regular routine this has to be an excellent option. We’ve recently launched our own branded reusable cups in a bid to support an increase in their usage.




Reusable cups are not the only viable option. Compostable cups have been available for some time and many coffee shops have made the switch to these. There is a downside: these cups need to be composted either commercially with food waste or in on-site composters. Currently collection and composting facilities are only available in some parts of Scotland, Bristol, Gloucester and Worcester. It is likely however that as use of compostable cups increases, more facilities will become available.


The figures for single cup usage are surely unsustainable for the planet. Even more so if we consider these figures are just for the UK. I can’t honestly see some of the reduction targets being achieved, and grand gestures can sometimes overshadow the small things which make a difference. We will only achieve a significant reduction through a combination of lifestyle changes alongside new systems to deal with recyclable and compostable cups. Each one of us needs to commit to a change, no matter how small.