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.