It’s an issue that few of us could claim not to contribute to in some way - and on 14 September, the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) re-launched its predecessor committee’s inquiry into disposable coffee cups and plastic bottles, with a call for evidence by 29 September.
The original inquiry, launched in March of this year, had already received over 100 submissions of evidence before being interrupted by the general election.
The EAC’s website frames the key challenge regarding coffee cups as a technical one. Polyethylene is used to make disposable coffee cups waterproof, but it cannot be separated out from the paper component of the cups in standard in UK recycling mills, making composting and recycling difficult.
But with plastic bottles, the EAC highlights the different issue of incentivising consumers to recycle them, pointing in particular to deposit return schemes (DRS) already in operation in countries such as Germany, Norway and Sweden, and now planned to be introduced by the Scottish government.
The inquiry’s terms of reference are broad, with evidence requested on topics ranging from the environmental impact of the waste and the technical challenges of recycling cups and bottles, to the effectiveness of initiatives to date, and possible future solutions.
In particular, the terms of reference include a request for evidence on the opportunities and risks associated with incentives to encourage the use of re-usable alternatives, and with charges, taxes, deposits or levies on the use of disposable coffee cups and plastic bottles.
This hints that one important aspect of the inquiry may be consideration of whether the problem is best tackled by ‘soft’ means – such as further awareness campaigns and behavioural initiatives, which are often voluntary on the part of industry – or by more extensive regulatory and incentive structures.
Written evidence can be submitted at:
Submissions should be made by 5pm on Friday, 29 September (the EAC website states that late submissions will be accepted, but may be too late to influence oral evidence hearings).