The Latte Levy Is Coming Because You Can’t Recycle A Starbucks Paper Cup

By: Bill McCool

So that Starbucks paper cup in your hand? Yeah, you can’t recycle that.

While the paper on the cup itself is made from recyclable materials, the inside of the cup is lined with polyethylene plastic. Since that thin layer of polyethylene plastic gums up the works at the recycling plant, those paper cups are sorted out and eventually end up in a landfill.

Because of this, lawmakers in the UK are considering implementing what they’ve called the “latte levy,” a tax on all disposable coffee cups that would raise the price of your coffee by 25p (about 34 cents).

Considering that 2.5 billion cups are thrown away in the UK alone every year, it’s a much-needed proposal that could greatly curtail unnecessary waste, as only about 1 in 400 of those cups actually get recycled. Lawmakers are betting they can influence consumer behavior when it comes to coffee cups after initiating an incredibly successful tax of 5p on all plastic bags that saw a reduction of 85% usage across the board.

In the UK, Starbucks has long offered discounts to customers who have chosen to forgo the paper cup for a reusable one, but they’ve found only 1.8% of their clientele actually do this. It seems like the only way to change our wasteful ways is to charge us for the very privilege of doing so.

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Apparently, we’re a deeply masochistic lot and cannot be bothered with rewards for good behavior. If the plastic bag tax proves anything, it’s that consumers are highly adaptable when it comes to price hikes. If the price of your morning coffee goes up by 10%, it’s only logical to purchase a travel container because the savings greatly outnumber the cost. However, a larger question remains: why does such a tax have to be thrown onto the backs of consumers when major brands and corporations are the real serial abusers of waste in the first place?

While companies like Starbucks at least acknowledge the quandary of paper cups clogging our landfills amongst so many other things, they seem to place the onus on municipalities and recycling centers—when they should instead be working to find solutions to the problem rather than letting consumers foot the bill. In 2016, Starbucks worked with Frugalpac after they had designed a fully disposable cup with a plastic lining which could be removed during the recycling process, however, it’s unclear as to whether their trial run in the UK was successful or not.

There’s no real evidence that says a latte levy will hit US shores in the near future, but with large chains and brands like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola taking more and more steps to become fully recyclable, it might just be a matter of time. Similar to the UK, plastic bag bans and additional fees are spread throughout many US cities and they’ve been banned completely at all large retailers in the state of California.

In the meantime, rather than simply wait on latte levies or fully recyclable paper cups, there’s no time like the present to purchase a decent, reusable cup.

Bill McCool
Bill McCool is a freelance writer based out of Los Angeles. Though new to the world of design, he has always been a storyteller by trade and he seeks to inspire and cultivate a sense of awe with the work and artists he profiles. When he's not winning over his daughters with the art of the Dad joke, he is usually working on a pilot, watching the Phillies, or cooking an elaborate meal for his wife.