30.Waste management and litter collection are devolved matters in the United Kingdom. The devolved nations set their own recycling targets. However there are two key areas where the UK has a joint approach to ensure that waste prevention and recycling commitments are met. There is also an EU target to recycle 50% of household waste by 2020.
31.Under UN Sustainable Development Goal 12, the UK has committed to improving resource and energy efficiency through sustainable and more responsible consumption and production. The SDG12 goal includes 12 targets, of which two are particularly relevant to the issue of coffee cup waste:
a)By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.
b)Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle.
32.The Government does not yet publish a comprehensive assessment of the UK’s progress against the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In the meantime, the National Well-being Indicators provide a useful proxy for progress on sustainable development, as they cover environmental, social and economic issues. Of the 41 indicators measured by the Office for National Statistics, the amount of household waste collected for recycling was the only deteriorating indicator. This suggests that the UK is not on track to meeting its target to substantially reduce waste generation by 2030 under SDG12. When asked about how the UK will ensure it reaches this target, Dr. Coffey told us:
In the Clean Growth Strategy, we said we wanted a zero-avoidable waste ambition; we need to work towards that. I have been particularly focused on trying to get our cities to do see what we can do to explore what the issues are, what the barriers are because you have neighbouring councils where their recycling rates are drastically different … We are exploring, potentially, ways about bringing in food waste [collection] for every household in the country.
33.We are concerned that the UK is not on course to meet Sustainable Development Goal 12 and that more needs to be done to encourage business to adopt more sustainable practices. The issue of disposable coffee cup waste highlights the importance of applying the waste hierarchy as set out in the first target, and the need to encourage design for recyclability as a sustainability best practice.
34.The EU Waste Framework Directive is the legislative framework governing the collection, transport, recovery and disposal of waste, and includes a common definition of waste. The Directive requires all Member States to take the necessary measures to ensure waste is recovered or disposed of without endangering human health or causing harm to the environment and includes permitting, registration and inspection requirements. It sets targets for 50% of waste to be recycled by 2020.
35.The Directive also requires Member States to take appropriate measures to encourage firstly, the prevention or reduction of waste production and its harmfulness and secondly the recovery or waste by means of recycling, re-use or reclamation or any other process with a view to extracting secondary raw materials, or the use of waste as a source of energy. The importance of this ‘Waste Hierarchy’ has informed our consideration of recommendations to tackle disposable packaging waste.
36.Within the EU Waste Framework Directive there is a specific directive on packaging and packaging waste which is implemented in the UK by the Producer Responsibility Obligations regulation (PRO). The regulation places a legal obligation on businesses over a certain size which make or use packaging to ensure that a proportion of the packaging they place on the market is recovered and recycled. Relevant businesses then discharge their responsibilities by purchasing evidence of packaging recycling in the form of a Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) or Packaging Recovery Export Note (PERN). DEFRA’s Deputy Director for Waste and Recycling, Chris Preston, explained how this system applies to producers and users of disposable coffee cups:
Coffee cup producers and plastic bottle makers, who put things on the market, are required to show that they have recycled through purchasing a PRN, a percentage of the packaging that they have put on the market. It will not necessarily be their plastic bottles, because it is not an individual thing, or their coffee cups, but in terms of the totality of packaging, they will have to show that they have contributed financially, through the PRN system, for some of that to be recovered.
37.The price of PRNs fluctuates according to the market for that particular type of material. The average fee charged to producers per tonne of packaging waste in the UK is around €20 per tonne. Other European countries have an average producer responsibility fee of €150 per tonne. Throughout this inquiry we have heard evidence from environmental researchers and local authorities that the UK’s current compliance fee contributes less than 10% of the cost of collecting, sorting and disposing of packaging. The Local Government Association noted:
The UK’s limited packaging producer compliance scheme generated £111 million of compliance revenue in 2013, only £37 million of which went towards collection. This compares to the £550 million cost to local authorities for collection and sorting of packaging material.
38.Producer Responsibility Obligations are intended to make producers of packaging responsible for the cost of disposing of their packaging. On this point, Lee Marshall from the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Service told us “I think at the moment in the UK the producer responsibility scheme fails the Ronseal test.” When asked about raising the UK’s packaging producer compliance fee Dr. Coffey told us:
Traditionally, the UK has been very proud of the fact that we had decent recycling rates, less going to landfill, but recognising that we are looking at this again.
39.We have also heard that other European countries have more robust producer responsibility schemes that incentivise design for recycling through modulated fee structures. Nick Brown from Coca-Cola explained this:
Typically in other countries it is a modulated fee structure. There will be a certain contribution for packaging that meets a certain design criteria; there will be a higher contribution for packaging that does not meet that criteria; the same for recycled material usage.
40.Industry bodies such as the Foodservice Packaging Association, the British Soft Drinks Association and the British Plastics Federation expressed desire for reform to producer responsibility in order to incentivise design for recyclability. Nick Brown from Coca Cola explained further:
A good producer responsibility scheme can encourage people to use eco design, design for recyclability principles that people were talking about before; some kind of credit for people who are using easy to recycle packaging.
41.We asked Dr. Coffey about whether a modulated fee structure will be introduced in the UK. The Minister told us:
I am not saying it is a definite policy, I am just saying that these are some of the ideas that could come through. Then if you have the manufacturers [saying] that they are the only person using a polymer and they have not created a scheme for it to be readily recycled, you might choose to have a higher charge, in effect, to deal with that. These are some of the ideas we are looking at now. I am afraid it is just a little bit too early for me to be able to say definitely what we’re doing.
42.The Government recently committed to exploring potential reform to producer responsibility schemes in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s October 2017 Clean Growth Strategy:
We will explore how we can better incentivise producers to manage resources more efficiently through producer responsibility schemes.
43.Additionally, major packaging industry stakeholders including producers, brands and retailers have signed a voluntary commitment to reduce waste and improve packaging design. The Courtauld Commitment supports the UK Government’s policy goal of a ‘zero waste economy’ and is managed by resource efficiency charity WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme). The third and most recent phase of the Courtauld Commitment includes the following target:
Improve packaging design through the supply chain to maximise recycled content as appropriate, improve recyclability and deliver product protection to reduce food waste, while ensuring there is no increase in the carbon impact of packaging by 2015, from a 2012 baseline.
44.We welcome the Government’s commitment to explore reforms to the current UK’s producer responsibility schemes. Currently, taxpayers cover around 90% of the costs of packaging waste disposal, indicating that the producer responsibility scheme does not make producers responsible for packaging disposal. Given that the mixed material design of disposable coffee cups prevents them from being widely recycled, leading to a recycling rate of less than 1%, a different compliance fee structure would encourage the development of disposable cups which are easier to recycle. We recommend that the Government introduce a compliance fee structure that reduces the cost of recyclable and sustainable cups, and raises costs on cups that are difficult and costly to recycle. The increased revenue should be used to invest in more reprocessing facilities and local authority ‘binfrastructure’ - on-the-go collection services.
45.The Government should also reduce the de minimis requirements for participation in the PRO scheme to include companies that place more than 1 tonne of packaging on the market. This would give producers and retailers - the polluters - greater financial responsibility for the type of packaging they are putting on the market, and an incentive only to produce and use packaging that can be easily recycled within the UK’s current recycling infrastructure.
46.The Government does not currently have a target for coffee cup recycling. It does have targets for paper and plastic recycling provided by the EU Waste Directive; the targets for 2020 are 69.5% and 51% respectively. It is unclear which category disposable coffee cups fall into. Whichever one it is, we are set to miss it without radical action of the type we recommend in this report. We were concerned to hear from Dr Coffey that at present there are no confirmed UK recycling targets for paper or plastic after we leave the European Union:
Chair: So you are saying these are EU targets, not UK targets.
Chris Preston: We go a little bit further, in terms of the overall targets that we set, to make sure that we hit the overall EU target, but yes, these are derived from the European Packaging Directive that sets a trajectory of targets to achieve by 2020 and possibly beyond.
Chair: But we have no target set for post-2020, do we?
Dr Thérèse Coffey: Not yet.
Chair: When do you think those targets will be set?
Dr Thérèse Coffey: I am expecting probably not until the middle of next year.
47.When asked about setting a target for coffee cups, the Minister told us “I think we will probably release that in our waste and resources strategy next year.” However the Minister qualified that rather than a specific target for coffee cups, the strategy would include a “specific ambition.” As ambitions have historically been weak around coffee cups, we recommend a target to focus minds.
48.Some coffee shop chains in the UK have made voluntary commitments to recycle more disposable cups. Starbucks and Costa Coffee, the UK’s two largest coffee shop chains, established in-store recycling systems for coffee cups in early 2017. We welcome this and congratulate them on their initiative. Costa Coffee is the only UK coffee shop to have a recycling target for disposable cups through this system, which was detailed in both written and oral evidence we received. Costa has a target of recycling 30 million cups a year through this system. However, we heard that they are not currently on track to meet this target. Oliver Rosevear, Energy and Environment Manager at Costa, explained:
From Costa Coffee’s point of view, all 2,000 of our stores do have recycling points in store. This is something we introduced in February of this year and to date we have recycled over 9 million cups through that system. We expect to enter, at the back end of the year, around 15 to 20 million cups recovered through that system [ … ] That 30 million was based on our trials of 40 stores in Manchester and London, which are obviously higher volume stores. What we are seeing, since we introduced this, is that obviously in certain more regional areas those take-ups are lower.
49.If Costa met its target of 30 million cups per year, this recycling scheme would only recycle 1.2% of the 2.5 billion disposable cups used in the UK each year
50.We heard evidence from NGOs, environmental researchers and local authorities to suggest that the main issue with in-store recycling systems is that they require customers to return to shops to recycle their cup, rather than being able to recycle them in on-street bins. Professor Wouter Poortinga told us that these in-store schemes “defeat the purpose of the on-the-go use of coffee cups” and Gavin Ellis, from environmental charity Hubbub, explained:
A lot of the focus has been on recycling cups in-store, but the very nature of on-the-go coffee is that most cups aren’t disposed of in the store. They are disposed of either out in the street or, what we found through a lot of our work, they are disposed of at work. Some morning commuters will buy a cup on their way out of the station or out of the Tube and it will end up at work and often get disposed of at work.
51.The coffee shop industry has shown some initiative in setting a collaborative target. In 2014 the Paper Cup Recovery & Recycling Group (PCRRG) was formed by the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA). The PCRRG is made up of organisations from various parts of the paper cup supply chain with an interest in setting priorities and determining direction around the key opportunities and challenges that face the paper cup supply chain. We received written evidence from PCRRG, and heard evidence from the Chair Neil Whittall. We also heard evidence from Martin Kersh, Executive Director of the FPA.
52.The Paper Cup Manifesto, which was signed by more than 45 members of the PCRRG in June 2016, sets out a target for the provision of coffee cup recycling facilities. The Paper Cup Manifesto states:
By 2020, the greater majority of the UK population will have access to information, schemes and facilities that enable used paper cups to be sustainably recovered and recycled.
53.When we heard evidence from Neil Whittall, PRCRRG and Martin Kersh, FPA, it became clear that the Paper Cup Manifesto does not include a quantitative target for an improved recycling rate for coffee cups, rather it has a target for “access to” coffee cup recycling facilities.
54.With the UK throwing away billions of disposable coffee cups per year, the Government needs to take decisive action. Although some members of the coffee shop industry have shown initiative in tackling coffee cup waste, we found their commitments are inconsistent and need targets. Some initiatives, such as in-store recycling, are well-meaning however they are not enough to tackle the level of coffee cup wastage in the UK. The voluntary approach is not working. Industry stakeholders need a clear recycling target to push them to plan and invest in greater recycling infrastructure and management. In-store recycling schemes should not be the responsibility of one or two coffee shop companies, they should be a matter of course for all large coffee shop chains. Coffee cups are far from meeting their share of either the paper or plastic targets set by the EU for 2020 and, in any case, it is unclear which category they would fall under. Therefore, we recommend the Government takes the opportunity to set a specific recycling target for disposable coffee cups in their upcoming Waste and Resources Strategy due to be published in 2018.
55.We recommend that the Government sets a target that all single use coffee cups disposed of in recycling bins should be recycled by 2023. If an effective recycling system is not established and achieves high levels of recycling by this date, the Government should ban disposable coffee cups. There is no excuse for the ongoing reluctance from Government and industry to address coffee cup waste. Disposable coffee cups are an avoidable waste problem and if the UK cannot be confident of their future sustainability, the Government should ban them.
44 United Nations, Sustainable Development Goal 12 Responsible Consumption and Production, Targets 5 and 6
45 National Audit Office, A Short Guide to Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development (September 2017)
50 Local Government Association (PKG0076A)
54 Foodservice Packaging Association (PKG0067A), British Soft Drinks Association (PKG0069A), British Plastics Federation and Plastics Europe (PKG0058A)
60 Q465, Q466, Q467
62 Costa Coffee (PKG0107A)
67 Q99, Q100, Q101, Q102, Q103, Q104
22 December 2017