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Opinion: Drink coffee on the go? It's time to start paying 25 cent for your disposable cups

Introducing this temporary levy could raise €300 million for recycling initiatives, writes Ian Fahey.

Ian Fahey Business & Law student in UCD

IN RECENT MONTHS, it has been very easy to criticise any priority or ambition that the UK Government has set out to achieve. However, one issue that comes up trumps against our sniggering selves is their brilliant proposed-initiative to tackle the issue of disposable coffee cups.

“Ah sure look, there’s better things to be worrying about in this day and age.”

Very true – but just because housing, hospitals and Brexit dominate our newsfeeds, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about the smaller issues that need urgent addressing.

The EU Commission recently announced that non-compostable coffee cups will be banned by 2030 – a massive step in the right direction. However, between now and then, 7.5 billion cups will have been unnecessarily discarded from Ireland alone.

The UK Government are currently considering introducing a 25p levy on single-use coffee cups, the saviour of many-a-commuter. Looking at that statement alone, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is “just another tax,” but like a latte in a plastic cup, there’s more to it underneath the surface. Quite literally, beneath the paper covering of your disposable cup is a very thin layer of polystyrene.

Ireland sends roughly two million disposable coffee cups to landfill every day – that’s three quarters of a billion cups annually. In addition, it is estimated that Irish households discard a whopping 80% of produced goods after a single use. We’re all guilty of doing that – including myself.

And even if your recycling system is top-notch at home, how many of us have actually asked the barista in our local coffee shop where the recycling bin is, instead of just plonking our used cup into the mysterious ‘hole’ beside the milk and sugar? The fact of the matter is that we are quite lazy when it comes to recycling outside of our house and workplace.

‘Use your own’

At present, the Environmental Protection Agency is projecting that Ireland will meet the EU targets of reducing the amount of waste that is being sent to landfill. However, Ireland is still short of the 2020 50% target of “preparing for reuse and recycling of plastics, paper and glass.”

Achieving this target will be a major achievement for Ireland – but that doesn’t mean that we will be rid of an equally major problem. Why limp towards a target when opportunities exist to leap-frog it?

Young Fine Gael’s on-going #UseYourOwn Campaign has hit the right note in relation to securing Ireland’s position as an even greener green-isle. Like our British neighbours, they are urging the government to introduce a 25-cent levy, which will be applied to all disposable cups nationwide in a bid to reduce waste.

In previous years, they have also called for similar initiatives for glass and plastic bottles. Their campaign also calls for coffee drinkers (and tea/hot chocolate lovers alike) to purchase and use their own reusable travel mugs, which are provided by many café chains around the country.

Nobody likes spending more for what they want. However, the reality is that this levy will do more good than harm. The proposed levy could garner roughly €300 million between now and 2030, which could easily be pumped into increasing awareness of proper and efficient recycling; rolling out additional campaigns on the issue; providing extra facilities specifically for recycling everyday goods – ‘binfrastructure’ if you will.

And lest we forget, we are already prepared to spend extra money to help the environment every time we pop into the shops. The average consumer is already spending 22-cent per plastic bag in the supermarket – a levy that has done wonders for our recycling efforts.

One final food-for-thought: a cross-parliament-committee in the UK found that consumer behaviour is more likely to be impacted by extra charges compared to various discounts that are offered for bringing your own cups. This proposed levy isn’t just a levy – it’s a science. Stop frothing about and implement it.

Ian Fahey is a Final Year Business & Law student in University College Dublin and member of Young Fine Gael. You can read his tweets from @ian_fahey94.

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About the author:

Ian Fahey  / Business & Law student in UCD

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