Any 'latte levy' on disposable cups will hurt us badly, claim NI coffee shops
A proposed 25p 'latte levy' on disposable coffee cups could damage small businesses, cafe owners in Northern Ireland have warned.
All disposable coffee cups should be recycled by 2023, and they should be banned if the target is not met, the Environmental Audit Committee at Westminster said.
However, the proposal has sparked major concerns for two Belfast stores.
Established, in the Cathedral Quarter, and The Pocket, based near Queen's University, both say that such a charge has the potential to seriously damage small businesses here.
Bridgeen Barbour, owner of Established with her partner Mark, says there needs to be a more positive way to deal with the recycling issue.
"From an environmental point of view it's a great idea, however, it's really difficult to put into practice," she said.
"We just seem to be getting hammered from every corner but getting people to reuse is quite difficult.
"However, we do have quite a few customers who try to bring their own cup already.
"I think it's a very easy solution for the Government to get more money from small businesses. It's the easy route to charge people more money."
The committee is calling on the Commons to introduce a 25p charge on disposable cups on top of the price of a coffee, with the money raised used to improve the UK's reprocessing facilities and 'binfrastructure' to ensure cups and other food and drink packaging are recycled.
If the Assembly returns, it would require legislation from Stormont to introduce a levy here. However, other environmental policies such as the plastic bag tax have been adopted by all parts of the UK.
Some shops give money off the price of a hot drink to customers who use reusable cups, such as Pret A Manger, which has just doubled its discount to 50p.
But the committee said uptake of these offers was low at only 1% to 2% of coffee purchases, and consumers were more responsive to a charge than a discount based on the success of the 5p single-use plastic bag levy.
The UK throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year. Almost all of them are incinerated, exported or sent to landfill, because their plastic lining makes them costly to recycle.
The committee heard that less than 1% of coffee cups are recycled because there are only three facilities in the UK that can split the paper and plastic components. But most people dispose of their coffee cups in recycling bins, believing they will be recycled.
Committee chairwoman Mary Creagh said: "We need to kick-start a revolution in recycling."
But Richard Evans, owner of The Pocket on University Road, said that a levy introduction could have a "dramatic impact" on his business, which he runs with his partner Bailey.
"We push customers to buy reusable cups, as I do also feel a moral obligation. But like all these things, does a tax introduction on sugar stop obesity?" he said.
"Is it really going to stop the problem that we're facing here?
"I suggest having incentives like having consumers paying less, rather than add extra charges on.
"When you look at our operating costs, they're massive for operating a small cafe. We have so many costs to deal with as a small business. This just doesn't feel fair or reasonable."