Should We Be Taxing Single-Use Cups?

As I’ve said before, single-use cups are an environmental disaster. The sooner we get off of our addiction to them, the better. But we are throwing out massive amounts of cups each year—over 50 billion in the US alone! It’s an overwhelming problem, but don’t worry. Starbucks is on it.

In 2016, 4 billion Starbucks cups were thrown out globally. Rather than continuing to be part of the problem, Starbucks has recently announced that it is launching an experimental 3-month initiative in London to reduce cup waste and promote sustainability. While they already offer a 25 pence incentive for bringing your own cup, Starbucks is taking it a step further by taxing 5 pence for a single-use to-go cup.

When the 25 pence incentive was launched years ago, the company was disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm for the deal. Only 1.8 percent of UK Starbucks customers bring their own cups. This new measure, which starts in February, is made in hopes that a tax, no matter how small, will encourage more consumers to bring their own cups. Additionally, the select UK Starbucks locations will continue to offer their 25 pence discount for bringing your own cup in addition to the 5 pence tax on to-go cups.

This couldn’t come at a better time. In the US, with only between 1 and 2 percent of Starbucks customers taking advantage of the paltry 10 cent incentive for bringing your own cup, changes desperately need to be made. Hopefully the thought of a tax, no matter how minimal, will encourage more customers to bear some environmental responsibility. There is no mention of the tax coming to the States, but if it is successful in London, we can hope to eventually expect some changes on our side of the Atlantic.

According to Starbucks’ press release, “All the money raised by the cup charge will be donated to environmental charity and behaviour change experts, Hubbub, who will use the funds to run a comprehensive behaviour change study, helping us to understand how the public can be encouraged to choose reusable drink containers which are better for the environment.”

Need help visualizing the mountain of waste generated by to-go cups each year? Check out this infographic:

To-go cups aren’t a human right, they are a waste. While it may seem a little less convenient, bringing your own cup is a reasonable request. Single-use cups are an unnecessary strain on our resources and environment.

Looking for ways to encourage less cup waste in your community? Try…

  • Bringing it up at a council meeting, explaining how less reliance on to-go cups will help the local environment, community and economy.
  • Encouraging small, independent cafes to launch a tax or an incentive for customers bringing their own cups.
  • Set a good example. Get a ceramic cup if you are staying.
  • If a local business has compostable cups, work on setting up the infrastructure to make sure those cups actually make it to composting rather than a landfill.

And of course, BRING YOUR OWN CUP! Do your part by instigating local change. Widespread change doesn’t happen overnight. Be the person to light the flame of sustainability in your community.

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