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To reduce waste, 35 Starbucks stores in London will charge about 7 cents more for paper cups.

Charlie Heller
February 26, 2018

Many a coffee-lover experienced a rude awakening last month when they learned that the classic paper coffee cup, used in so many daily to-go orders, is not actually recyclable. The news accompanied a call by members of Parliament who called for a 25p (about 34 cents) tax on drinks served in the cups, a.k.a. a "latte levy." While no such law has so far been enacted, Starbucks announced today that it was getting ahead of the game with a fee of their own. Or, at least, a trial run of one.

In order to encourage the support of reusable cups, the company says, 35 Starbucks stores around London will charge an extra 5p (about 7 cents) for each disposable cup, which it will donate to environmental charity Hubbub. While not quite the 34 cent upcharge suggested by the study that kicked this whole thing off, the company says the trial will run for three months before it decides how to proceed.

All this may have you wondering why these paper cups can't just be recycled like normal paper. Well, it turns out they technically can be, but breaking them down requires a specialized facility. (If you really want to know, the polyethylene liner bonded to the cardboard core is cumbersome to remove.) Since these facilities are few and outside the normal recycling stream, only one in every 400 cups in the U.K. get recycled, leading to half a million going to waste every day. 

According to Starbucks' research, 48 percent of customers say they would carry a reusable cup in order to avoid paying even that tiny surcharge, which could mean good things for the environment. The chain already offers a 25p discount for customers using reusable cups, but, only 1.8 percent of customers actually take advantage of this offer. So, the charge could actually end up moving the needle. After all, the country's plastic bag charge (also of 5p) reduced plastic bag use by over 85 percent in just its first year.