Amid the climate change strikes taking place and the headlines warning against the imminent threat of plastic, there is a university student staple that is a major contributing factor to the issue of waste production: coffee. There is an unusually high proportion of institutions serving coffee in St Andrews in order to meet the admittedly humongous demand. On Market Street alone, there are six: Rector’s, Mitchell’s, Gregg’s, Pret-a-Manger, Starbucks and Costa Coffee and, for those looking for a quicker coffee caffeine fix, there are three Costa Expresses located in Tesco, Morrisons, and the Shell station.
Most coffees are taken away in disposable cups, and a vast majority of disposable cups are not recycled. The lack of recycling is partially due to the mixed composition of paper and plastic that gives the coffee cup its recyclability mystique. Many coffee companies that like to perpetuate an environmentally conscious persona have taken steps to reduce their waste production.
Costa Coffee promotes a recycling initiative for its cups. Costa cups are composed of a mixture of a paper outside lined with a thin inner lining of plastic to preserve the warmth of the beverage and keep the cup waterproof. Costa branches also have recycling collection points in store. However, this initiative is impractical as Costa offers ceramic cups for sit-in customers, and takeaway coffee is taken elsewhere and likely thrown away at the drinker’s convivence.
Pret also boasts of sustainable practices, citing its goal to have 100 per cent recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging and eliminate all unnecessary single-use plastic, including replacing plastic straws with paper ones. However, due to parallels with Costa initiatives, the same issues that Costa’s plan faces arise with Pret.
Even if recyclable cups are indeed disposed of into the recycling bin, it may not actually be recycled or processed correctly. The reality of compostable cups is even worse. They need moisture, oxygen and bacteria to breakdown, conditions that are not met in the average landfill. And if recycled, biodegradable plastics contaminate the recycling loop, making it unusable for manufacturing.
Instead of promoting what is seen as more eco-friendly materials for their disposable cups, Starbucks has instead introduced a five pence disposable cup surcharge to encourage customers to bring their own cups, modelled after the successful introduction of charging consumers for the purchase of grocery bags. However, some argue that this fee is negligible and not substantial enough to curtail the use of disposable cups. Several MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee are calling for twenty-five pence charge for disposable cups in order to reduce waste, which was faced with strong opposition by the people who believed that the responsibility should fall on the companies and not the consumer. Those opposed to raising the disposable cup charge argue against the increase by stating that increasing the charge will not incentivise consumers to start using reusable cups, as the convivence of being able to purchase a drink in a single-use cup and then throw it away is perceived worth the nominal charge.
No matter what legislation is passed regarding reusable cups, there is no better time than now to start using a reusable cup. Even for those who are indifferent to reducing their waste production, those disposable cup fees and reusable cup discounts add up, making a reusable cup a pragmatic investment.
A tall latte at Starbucks costs £2.75, and the difference between a £2.80 latte versus a £2.75 is not drastic enough to create an incentive for bringing a reusable cup. There is also no sit-in option that utilises washable drinkware, making the only way to prevent waste production to bring your own reusable cup.
Even for those who do not identify as environmentally conscious, reusable coffee cups are a sensible fiscal investment. Starbucks sells a reusable cup, starting at a reasonable price of one pound. And with its twenty-five pence discount on drinks with a reusable cup, it takes less than four drinks for you to get your money’s worth. For regular consumers of coffee, this is a worthwhile investment. Costa also offers a twenty-five pence discount on drinks with a reusable cup, with Costa cups priced at three pounds, or twelve coffees. Pret offers the most generous discount, with fifty pence off drinks with a reusable cup. Pret’s cup, however, is significantly more expensive than Starbucks’ and Costa’s, at ten pounds. Gregg’s also offers twenty pence off with a reusable cup and a free drink with the purchase of a two pound Gregg’s cup.
Whatever motivates you to start using a reusable cup, whether it is your environmental conscience or your wallet, it is time to wake up and smell the KeepCup coffee.