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Scotland serious about coffee cup tax

The Scottish Government is to introduce a deposit return scheme for single use drinks containers next year to “increase recycling rates and reduce litter”.

The programme for government 2017/18, published this week, also includes a commitment to examine how to reduce demand for other single-use items, like disposable coffee cups.

“We will appoint an expert panel to advise on the use of charges, similar to the successful plastic bag charge, with the goal of encouraging long-term and sustainable changes to consumer behaviour,” the government said.

Coffee cups have become a focus for politicians since a campaign run by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall last year. Around eight million are thought to be used every day. But because they are used on the go and often made with paper fused with a plastic liner, only a fraction are recycled.

There are collection schemes in place, however, and the industry – led by the Foodservice Packaging Association – has launched a manifesto in which companies including Costa, Starbucks and Greggs have committed to “significantly increase paper cup recovery and recycling rates by 2020”.

Still, applying a charge, similar to the one on bags, is attracting a fair amount of support and Scotland is set to lead the charge. Westminster will be watching closely, and the policy wouldn’t be as hard for the environment secretary Michael Gove to swallow as some might think.

The FPA maintained that taxing disposable cups will not increase recycling rates, nor affect the behaviour of those who litter. People have adapted easily to the plastic bag charge by carrying reusable ones; this would not necessarily be the case with reusable cups, which would need to be washed and dried, the FPA argued.

Campaigners also welcomed the launch of a deposit return scheme (DRS) as a “massive step” in stopping plastic pollution. “Hopefully it won’t be too long before the UK follows suit,” said Willie Mackenzie, oceans expert at Greenpeace.

 Zero Waste Scotland said that, taken together, the DRS and charge on coffee cups are a “real game changer for a zero waste society”.