Saving 17,000 Paper Coffee Cups Costs £250,000 Pounds – Bargain, Eh?


A delightful little example of the flat out idiocy of parts of the environmental movement here. Varied gussets are getting twisted in the war on disposable coffee cups. So, a coffee chain in the SW of England – yes, including one in the normally more sensible home town – has decided to simply ban them. No one may gain a single use coffee cup from that chain of stores.

Hey, whatever, this combination of capitalism and markets does indeed mean that anyone’s free to lose money in whatever manner they wish. The thing is, it’s costing £14.70 for each paper cup not used. Well, OK, £14.70 in lost sales, some of which will be economic activity that doesn’t happen. And is anyone really insistent that the use of a single use paper cup costs society £14.70? Or perhaps whatever portion of that sum which is true lost economic activity?

Since the beginning of June, when customers have ordered a hot drink at BTP, it has come with four options: sit in and drink from a china mug; bring your own reusable cup from home; rent a reusable cup (you get your deposit back when you return it and it doesn’t matter how long you have it for); or buy a bamboo ‘Ecoffee’ cup, which the cafe sells for £4.25 – the cost price.

At the company’s Bath store, one customer came in with an empty yoghurt pot instead of a cup: “I mean we’ll put coffee in anything, as long as it’s not single use,” says Hannah Brown, BTP Birmingham’s head barista.

Hey, super, you go for it folks. There is a cost to this though:

The company’s takeaway sales, worth approximately £1,000,000 last year, are down by almost a quarter. But Sam Roberts, owner and managing director of BTP, remains steadfast in his commitment: “We did this because it’s the right thing to do, not the easy option, this is the start of the story for us.”

So far, the policy has saved customers from sending an estimated 17,500 cups to landfill.

Is “saving” 17,000 cups worth £250,000 in lost sales? Sure, valuations differ, that’s what makes a market, but not by any rational calculation, no. The only trees used to make paper are those planted and grown to make paper. Not using paper cups to save trees is the same as abjuring bread to save wheat plants. There’re oil or gas based plastics in there as well but then that’s not a scarce resource – the environmentalists keep telling us we’ve discovered more than we can use for climate change reasons already.

As to saving the landfill:

I’m told that one medium cup a day for a year amounts to some 5 kg of waste. As the report tells us there are 7 million cups used each day, so that is 35,000 tonnes of waste a year. And we know what the cost of a tonne of landfill waste is. We’ve got a Pigou Tax on it: it’s £83 per tonne these days. The annual cost of chucking those paper cups into landfill is therefore just under £3 million. And there’s not a chance Government is under-taxing us on this, is there?

Running those numbers back the other way our 17k cups are some 200 kg. Or a landfill cost of, erm, £16 or so? We should lose £250,000 in sales for a saving of £16 in waste disposal costs? Or whatever portion of that £250k is actually a proper loss in economic activity, not just sales displaced to the next shop down the road?

These people are mad, aren’t they?