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Starbucks and Pret launch UK trials to combat take-away waste

Coffeeshop chains announce new initiatives to cut single-use waste with takeaway cup levy and plastic bottle deposit scheme
UK consumers will get their first taste of the so-called ‘latte levy’ after Starbucks announced it will trial a 5p disposable cup charge at 35 London outlets. Slated for a three-month trial, the initiative will monitor customer response to the charge in tandem with ‘prominent’ reusable cup marketing.

In a similar move, Pret A Manger will consult customers on a 10p deposit scheme for all plastic bottles sold, with a trial announced in Brighton from April. Both high street coffee chains currently run incentive-led schemes to promote re-usable take-away coffee cups.

In 1998, Starbucks became the first coffee chain in the UK to offer customers a 10p discount for reusable cup use, increasing to 25p in 2008. The US firm began selling a £1 re-usable cup in 2014, reducing the cost to 50p for a short time in 2016. However, a statement from Starbucks said that that recent efforts to reduce waste ‘did not move the needle in the way we thought it might’, adding that just 1.8% of its customers currently opt for re-usable cups.

The move makes Starbucks the first major UK coffeeshop chain to implement takeaway coffee cups charges floated by the government earlier this year. The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee recommended in January that disposable cups should carry a 25p charge, but Starbucks’ move more closely resembles the 5p plastic bag charge introduced in 2016, which achieved an 83% usage reduction in its first year.

Meanwhile, Pret A Manger CEO, Clive Schlee, announced the coffee and food-to-go chain’s deposit scheme trial via his company blog. ‘The idea is that we would add 10p to all plastic bottles and return 10p for each Pret bottle given back to our teams to recycle. The aim is to understand how many bottles are returned and to see if it encourages more customers to opt for a reusable bottle. We will of course reinvest any unclaimed deposits in future sustainability work’, he wrote.

Schlee also highlighted the success of deposit schemes in Germany and Denmark, where plastic bottle recycling rates are almost 90%, compared to just over half in the UK.

Pret A Manger recently doubled the discount for customers using their own cups in-store to 50p following a successful trial in 2017. It also offers customers free water usage stations and has announced the phasing out of straws in a bid to reduce plastic waste.

The initiatives reflect a broader trend among major UK coffee chains to reduce waste associated with their take-away products. Costa Coffee currently offers a 25p discount for customers using a reusable cup in-store while bakery chain Paul recently raised its reusable cup discount from 10p to 25p. Greggs offers a 20p discount for re-usable cup use and Caffè Nero offers an extra loyalty card stamp for doing so. All of the above retail re-usable cups in-store for between £2 and £3.50.

Research by Allegra World Coffee Portal has identified a growing appetite among consumers to reduce disposable cup waste, with 38% of consumers surveyed agreeing that take-away cups should carry a plastic bag-style levy – a 3% increase on 2016.

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