Costa to ‘review’ cup pledge if levy passed

A tax on single-use coffee cups would cause Costa Coffee, part of Whitbread, to “review” its pledge to recycle the same volume of cups that it puts on the market by 2020.

That’s according to James Pitcher, head of sustainability at Whitbread, which also owns other hospitality companies including Premier Inn and Beefeater.

Earlier this year, Costa added to the conversation on coffee cup recycling by pledging to recycle up to 500 million coffee cups a year by 2020 (see story).

This is through a form of self-imposed producer responsibility, with the majority sent to the James Cropper paper mill in Cumbria where the plastic inner lining and outer paper are both separated.

Costa might have to change its recycling plans if a coffee cup levy was imposed, owner Whitbread has warned

The paper, which is generally clean as it has been protected by the inner lining, is thought to be in high demand for some paper recyclers. The inner plastic lining is believed to be widely used for energy recovery.

Costa said it will pay £70 a tonne to the waste management companies for collection of the material. And, it noted that this will give the cups a value of £120 to the companies when a £50 payment per tonne is added from the mills.


Speaking with today (31 May), Mr Pitcher explained that the while the upcoming Waste and Resources Strategy shouldn’t impact the scheme, a potential levy could.

“If there are mandated changes to the PRN system [in any upcoming legislation] we could scale our incentive to counter that. So if £20 was mandated we would scale our incentive to £50, and so on. We always offer £70. This isn’t what we would definitely do, but it is an option we have,” he explained.

Mr Pitcher added however that the company “has made clear” that any levy, such as the 25p ‘latte levy’ proposed by the Environment Audit Committee earlier this year, could lead to problems further down the line.

“We have made clear to treasury that if there was a levy applied it would cause us to review our scheme,” he explained.

Mr Pitcher continued: “Essentially this would give a value on a tonne of cups. But also, we think taxing is the wrong thing and we don’t think it would achieve the right outcomes.

“You may find people are happy to pay a tax to have a cup but it won’t necessarily be recycled, and could go to landfill. We want to avoid that with our scheme, we want to recycle more, incentivise industry and take accountability.”


The scheme, which was announced in April, was widely praised by the industry. Waste management companies named by Costa as being involved with the project to recycle the cups include: Biffa, Grundon, Suez, First Mile and Veolia.

Mr Pitcher confirmed when speaking with that the next steps include opening dialogue with companies and businesses to know that if they offer a coffee cup collection point, the waste management company they work with may be able to collect them.

He also confirmed that the scheme was “an investment without a financial return” for the business, and it is being done to do the right thing and have an immediate impact.

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