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UK retailers see rise in sales of reusable coffee cups

A reusable coffee cup made from bamboo. Disposable coffee cups cannot be recycled because of the plastic lining inside.
A reusable coffee cup made from bamboo. Disposable coffee cups cannot be recycled because of the plastic lining inside. Photograph: Ter Pengilley for the Guardian

Sales of reusable coffee cups are soaring in the UK, retailers are reporting, as the government hints at a tax on disposable cups.

Argos, which is part of the Sainsbury’s Group, said it had sold 537% more portable cups in December 2017 than the same month the previous year. Meanwhile, kitchenware chain Lakeland reported an increase in sales of more than 100% month-on-month, homeware company Robert Dyas reported a 50% lift year-on-year.

John Lewis said the week before Christmas was its biggest ever week for sales of travel cups, and Wilko said it sold 78% more in December than November.

Last week MPs on the environmental audit committee called for a 25p “latte levy” to be charged on top of the price of a hot drink, amid growing worries about the overuse and waste of 2.5bn disposable coffee cups every year. Meanwhile, in the government’s 25-year environment plan released on Thursday, the prime minister, Theresa May, announced a call for evidence into charges for single-use items.

Disposable cups cannot be recycled by normal systems because they are made from cardboard with a tightly bonded polyethylene liner, which is difficult to remove. As a result, just one in 400 cups are recycled – less than 0.25%. Half a million coffee cups are littered each day in the UK, the report said.

“We saw a huge growth in the sales of travel mugs over the Christmas period,” said Dawn Ritchie, kitchen buying manager at Argos. “This was partly spurred on by the popularity of shows such as Blue Planet II, as well as some of the UK’s biggest coffee chains offering compelling discounts for customers with reusable cups. With the recently proposed ‘latte levy’, we expect this trend to only grow as awareness of disposable cup waste increases.”

However, financial incentives by UK coffee chains to encourage consumers to use reusable coffee cups have had mixed results. In 1998 Starbucks was the first coffee chain in the UK to offer users of reusable cups a discount – 10p – before upping it to 25p in 2008. In 2016 it doubled this to 50p, but take-up remained low. In 2014 it launched a £1 reusable cup, but despite these efforts only 1.8% of its customers use reusable cups. Earlier this month Pret a Manger doubled its discount to 50p on all hot drinks bought by customers with reusable cups, and it is planning to launch its own reusable cup later in the year.

Trewin Restorick, chief executive of environmental charity Hubbub, said: “It is really encouraging to see the increase in sales of reusable cups, which are the most environmentally friendly option for coffee on the go. We’d also like to see greater availability of recycling facilities for existing cups, as our Square Mile challenge campaign has demonstrated that the public are very willing to use these when they have the option.”

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This article titled "UK retailers see rise in sales of reusable coffee cups" was written by Rebecca Smithers Consumer affairs correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 11 January 2018 04.22pm

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