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Starbucks is to try charging 5p a throwaway cup to see if that encourages people to reuse their own, or buy one of their china ones, or something like that. It won’t work. We know this, absolutely, it’s not enough as a fee for the convenience. For the thing is this has been tested already.

But, you know, fashion and all that:

Starbucks will be the first UK coffee chain to trial a “latte levy” – a 5p charge on takeaway coffee cups – under plans that aim to reduce the overuse and waste of 2.5bn disposable cups every year.

In the latest offensive in the war against plastic waste, the chain said it hoped the move, starting on Monday, would help change behaviour and encourage customers to switch to reusable cups instead.

In the three-month trial, consumers buying hot drinks in takeaway cups in 35 selected London branches of Starbucks (including the City and West End) will have to pay an extra 5p. Baristas across the chain will also offer customers drinking in store a ceramic cup, cutting paper use further.

It’s not going to work. For as we say, this has been tested:

A new report from Cardiff University tells us that we’d have to be blithering idiots to insist that people stop using disposable coffee cups. (Not that the authors of the report seem to have realised.) Yet, of course, we still have a government campaign and even, whisper it, the possibility of a Task Force to make it happen.

Idiocy may not be a word contained within the report, but the research found that a charge of 25p per cup only gets a few per cent of people to take a reusable one. The vast majority of people shrug and take the standard ones which, after that 20 minutes of use, pile up in a landfill site.

If 25p isn’t enough then 5p isn’t going to be either, is it? There is also the rather important question of whether this is something we want to be doing at all, dissuading people from dumping stuff in landfill:

It is not necessary that we like the answer which the price system delivers to us but it is indeed vital that we understand it. Even when we add up all of the environmental costs of not doing so the recycling of coffee cups makes us poorer. Given that becoming poorer is not a known aim of socio-economic policy therefore we shouldn’t recycle coffee cups.

In fact, we definitely shouldn’t be doing this:

The charge doesn’t change behaviour. So, that’s one justification of such a Pigou Tax out the window. The other possible justification is that the revenues raised should be spent upon dealing with the problem. Yet we can also calculate what is the cost of the problem. That’s some £3 million a year. For that is what the cost, as measured by the Landfill Tax, is to stick the nation’s discarded coffee cup[s into holes in the ground.

A decent enough stab at the revenue raised from this tax is some £625 million (2.5 billion cups, 25 pence per cup). That is, there would be a charge of £625 million to solve a £3 million problem. This makes us poorer.

This is not a good idea.

Making us all poorer is not a known desire of any economic or social policy. Nor of the rational action of any business or other organisation. We’re simply in the grip of a delusion that all must be recycled. A delusion we’d better disabuse ourselves of before racing down that slope to ever greater poverty.

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KevinS
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KevinS

Am I alone in being someone who doesn’t find it necessary to carry a paper cup of coffee around with me? If I want a cup of coffee I’ll go into a coffee shop and buy a cup of coffee, sit down at one of the tables provided, and drink the coffee at my leisure. It seems a lot more civilised to me than troughing on the move as seems to be the fashion today.

Bloke in North Dorset
Member

Obviously you are not an important person because you have time to sit and enjoy your coffee. Rushing around showing they have no time makes people feel, and look, important. As I’ve argued before when we discussed Internet on trains, one of the biggest problems I saw before I retired was that people just didn’t sit down and think. I’ve been really busy in my time working on startup mobile and other telecoms companies that had an unrealistic launch dates, but I always made time to clear my head and think. Usually it was going for a run at lunchtime… Read more »

bloke in spain
Member
bloke in spain

With this sort of nonsense, it’s always worth looking at second order effects. No-one’s going to be wanting to reuse dirty ceramic cups. It’s a pretty fair guess that if people are buying coffee-to-go for convenience, they won’t be doing the washing in a place they could be making high quality coffee for themselves. Which implies they won’t be washing cups in a fully functional kitchen. So they’ll likely be rinsing them out under a hot tap. Which is a highly inefficient way of washing crockery. So it wouldn’t be a poor guess; the environmental cost of reusing ceramic cups… Read more »

Diogenes
Member
Diogenes

If it discouraged people from spilling coffee on the floors of crowded buses and trains then I would certainly be in favour. Most people seem to find it hard to hold a cup steady on such vehicles while standing. It raises the question of why they do it in the first place but I guess they enjoy the thrill of whether they will scald themselves or others. Then throwing the used cup with some quantity of liquid still inside it onto the floor so everyone else gets to enjoy the thrill of standing in coffee. But since we know it… Read more »

Bloke in Cyprus
Member

@KevinS “Am I alone in being someone who doesn’t find it necessary to carry a paper cup of coffee around with me?”

No, I’ve never done it either…

…and if I did, I wouldn’t drink it out of the little spout like a 5 y/o.

Patrick
Member
Patrick

Burn the rubbish. ALL of it. We dig up hydrocarbons, and we burn them directly or turn them into plastic. And then we bury plastic! How fucked up is that? Modern waste-to-power plants are very clean and efficiently generate electricity that then doesn’t need to be fossil fired – it displaces ‘dirty’ electicity. Stop landfill and stop recycling. Get burning!

Gamecock
Guest
Gamecock

‘Modern waste-to-power plants are very clean and efficiently generate electricity that then doesn’t need to be fossil fired – it displaces ‘dirty’ electicity.”

So the big break through we are waiting for is for someone to figure out how to convert natural gas into Starbucks cups.

J G
Guest
J G

Any foam cup already does that.

Patrick
Member
Patrick

We already have massive Gas To Liquids plants – look at Shell’s plant in Qatar for example. Some of the liquids they produce are food industry quality waxes and greases.
But…this is not a cost effective way to make cups and lids.
Just burn them!

Chris
Guest
Chris

The £3m is probably overstating it as well. The landill tax was originally intended to be a revenue neutral approach to internalize externalities. Then it was promptly increased without reference to that the very next budget and has been a revenue raising tax ever since. https://www.ifs.org.uk/docs/chapter_leicester_uk2.pdf A study commissioned by the former UK Department of the Environment (CSERGE et al., 1993) estimated that across the whole waste stream, the average marginal external cost of landfill was £7 per tonne for ‘active’ wastes (biodegradable wastes which release emissions) and £2 per tonne for ‘inactive’ (non-biodegradable) waste. Shortly afterwards, the government announced… Read more »

Chester Draws
Member
Chester Draws

Burying cups is carbon storage. They should be all for that.

Spike
Member

Foam cups visibly disintegrate into near nothing even before they start to burn. The even larger scourge of state legislatures, Walmart plastic bags, have been re-engineered to puncture-but-not-rip, the latest advance in making the product thinner and using a minimum of actual plastic. That is, engineering advances have halved the problem compared to ten years ago, while governments keep trying to “solve” it by setting prices wrong and by overt coercion. Used cups “piling up in landfills,” apart from being a motivational mental image, would be a thing of the past except that we are relying for solid waste disposal… Read more »

bloke in spain
Member
bloke in spain

Incidentally, when I was still involved in the running of the building business we were the only builders I knew gave the blokes disposable cups for the on-site cuppas rather than the usual assortment of battered chinaware. In fact, if I ever came across a china mug, it went into the skip hard enough to smash. Reason? The time wasted at teabreaks collecting all the mugs from wherever they’d ended up & washing them, preparatory to serving char. Time’s money & I don’t pay skilled hourly rates to do dishwashing. Or, a lot of the time, “convenience” is another word… Read more »

KevinS
Guest
KevinS

Am I alone in being someone who doesn’t find it necessary to carry a paper cup of coffee around with me? If I want a cup of coffee I’ll go into a coffee shop and buy a cup of coffee, sit down at one of the tables provided, and drink the coffee at my leisure. It seems a lot more civilised to me than troughing on the move as seems to be the fashion today.

Bloke in North Dorset
Member

Obviously you are not an important person because you have time to sit and enjoy your coffee. Rushing around showing they have no time makes people feel, and look, important. As I’ve argued before when we discussed Internet on trains, one of the biggest problems I saw before I retired was that people just didn’t sit down and think. I’ve been really busy in my time working on startup mobile and other telecoms companies that had an unrealistic launch dates, but I always made time to clear my head and think. Usually it was going for a run at lunchtime… Read more »

bloke in spain
Member
bloke in spain

With this sort of nonsense, it’s always worth looking at second order effects. No-one’s going to be wanting to reuse dirty ceramic cups. It’s a pretty fair guess that if people are buying coffee-to-go for convenience, they won’t be doing the washing in a place they could be making high quality coffee for themselves. Which implies they won’t be washing cups in a fully functional kitchen. So they’ll likely be rinsing them out under a hot tap. Which is a highly inefficient way of washing crockery. So it wouldn’t be a poor guess; the environmental cost of reusing ceramic cups… Read more »

Diogenes
Member
Diogenes

If it discouraged people from spilling coffee on the floors of crowded buses and trains then I would certainly be in favour. Most people seem to find it hard to hold a cup steady on such vehicles while standing. It raises the question of why they do it in the first place but I guess they enjoy the thrill of whether they will scald themselves or others. Then throwing the used cup with some quantity of liquid still inside it onto the floor so everyone else gets to enjoy the thrill of standing in coffee. But since we know it… Read more »

Bloke in Cyprus
Member

@KevinS “Am I alone in being someone who doesn’t find it necessary to carry a paper cup of coffee around with me?”

No, I’ve never done it either…

…and if I did, I wouldn’t drink it out of the little spout like a 5 y/o.

Patrick
Member
Patrick

Burn the rubbish. ALL of it. We dig up hydrocarbons, and we burn them directly or turn them into plastic. And then we bury plastic! How fucked up is that? Modern waste-to-power plants are very clean and efficiently generate electricity that then doesn’t need to be fossil fired – it displaces ‘dirty’ electicity. Stop landfill and stop recycling. Get burning!

Gamecock
Guest
Gamecock

‘Modern waste-to-power plants are very clean and efficiently generate electricity that then doesn’t need to be fossil fired – it displaces ‘dirty’ electicity.”

So the big break through we are waiting for is for someone to figure out how to convert natural gas into Starbucks cups.

J G
Guest
J G

Any foam cup already does that.

Patrick
Member
Patrick

We already have massive Gas To Liquids plants – look at Shell’s plant in Qatar for example. Some of the liquids they produce are food industry quality waxes and greases.
But…this is not a cost effective way to make cups and lids.
Just burn them!

Chris
Guest
Chris

The £3m is probably overstating it as well. The landill tax was originally intended to be a revenue neutral approach to internalize externalities. Then it was promptly increased without reference to that the very next budget and has been a revenue raising tax ever since. https://www.ifs.org.uk/docs/chapter_leicester_uk2.pdf A study commissioned by the former UK Department of the Environment (CSERGE et al., 1993) estimated that across the whole waste stream, the average marginal external cost of landfill was £7 per tonne for ‘active’ wastes (biodegradable wastes which release emissions) and £2 per tonne for ‘inactive’ (non-biodegradable) waste. Shortly afterwards, the government announced… Read more »

Bloke in Germany
Guest
Bloke in Germany

“Given that becoming poorer is not a known aim of socio-economic policy…”

Are you sure about that?

Wheelz
Guest
Wheelz

The article is fine but your picture at the end has to go. It’s the same one you used for a long time and it is not flattering. A new one of you in a suit, smiling and looking smart would be good. One is a cool shirt and sport jacket would be better but I don’t think you will be able to pull it off. Before you use any photo, get a few good looking young women to look at it and approve it. If they don’t, don’t waste your time using it.

Chester Draws
Member
Chester Draws

Burying cups is carbon storage. They should be all for that.

Spike
Member

Foam cups visibly disintegrate into near nothing even before they start to burn. The even larger scourge of state legislatures, Walmart plastic bags, have been re-engineered to puncture-but-not-rip, the latest advance in making the product thinner and using a minimum of actual plastic. That is, engineering advances have halved the problem compared to ten years ago, while governments keep trying to “solve” it by setting prices wrong and by overt coercion. Used cups “piling up in landfills,” apart from being a motivational mental image, would be a thing of the past except that we are relying for solid waste disposal… Read more »

Ian Reid
Member
Ian Reid

The person who comes up with the foldable paper cup that also doubles as a carrier bag for your groceries is going to clean up. Maybe some seventh Dan origami’st is already working on it.

PF
Guest
PF

The person who comes up with the foldable paper cup that also doubles as a carrier bag for your groceries is going to clean up.

Hopefully! LOL

bloke in spain
Member
bloke in spain

Incidentally, when I was still involved in the running of the building business we were the only builders I knew gave the blokes disposable cups for the on-site cuppas rather than the usual assortment of battered chinaware. In fact, if I ever came across a china mug, it went into the skip hard enough to smash. Reason? The time wasted at teabreaks collecting all the mugs from wherever they’d ended up & washing them, preparatory to serving char. Time’s money & I don’t pay skilled hourly rates to do dishwashing. Or, a lot of the time, “convenience” is another word… Read more »

Bloke in Germany
Guest
Bloke in Germany

“Given that becoming poorer is not a known aim of socio-economic policy…”

Are you sure about that?

Wheelz
Guest
Wheelz

The article is fine but your picture at the end has to go. It’s the same one you used for a long time and it is not flattering. A new one of you in a suit, smiling and looking smart would be good. One is a cool shirt and sport jacket would be better but I don’t think you will be able to pull it off. Before you use any photo, get a few good looking young women to look at it and approve it. If they don’t, don’t waste your time using it.

Ian Reid
Member
Ian Reid

The person who comes up with the foldable paper cup that also doubles as a carrier bag for your groceries is going to clean up. Maybe some seventh Dan origami’st is already working on it.

PF
Guest
PF

The person who comes up with the foldable paper cup that also doubles as a carrier bag for your groceries is going to clean up.

Hopefully! LOL