Single-use disposable cups: EPECOM recommendations

The first report from Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and Other Measures (EPECOM) sets out its recommendations to tackle the dependence on, and environmental impact of, single-use disposable beverage cups in Scotland.

Why Action Is Needed

Scene Setting 

The problem with disposable beverage cups

In recent years there has been a significant increase in the use of single-use disposable beverage cups for consuming tea, coffee and other drinks. Around 2.5 billion single-use disposable beverage cups are consumed in the UK each year, with around 200 million of those likely to be used in Scotland, and this is projected to increase to 310 million by 2025[2]. The growing dependence on single-use packaging associated with our on the go and throwaway culture has increased the volume of waste generated. According to calculations by Zero Waste Scotland, single-use disposable beverage cups generate circa 4,000 tonnes of waste in Scotland each year. Many disposable cups are made of paper with a waterproof plastic lining, and are difficult to recycle unless they are collected separately from other recyclable material and taken to specialist recycling facilities. As a result they are often incinerated or go to landfill, creating carbon emissions and contributing to climate change.

Carbon emissions

The CO2e emissions associated with producing and disposing of a disposable cup are approximately 1.5 times the weight of the cup itself, with more than half of this coming from the plastic lid. Disposable beverage cups in Scotland produce an estimated 5,900 tonnes of CO2e per year[3]

Plastic pollution

In addition to the carbon emissions, an estimated 40,000 disposable cups are littered in Scotland each year, making them one of the most commonly littered items. As disposable cups are relatively large and easy to spot, they act as ‘beacons of litter which makes a place look untidy and attracts more litter, increasing overall plastic pollution[4]

Current model of consumption

Disposable cups are mostly used on the go, for example when people buy a drink on the way to work or on their lunchbreak and take it with them. The purpose of the cup is to be portable and disposable and when the cup is disposed of it may be at a different location from the purchase point and not at a retail venue. This makes it hard to capture the cups for recycling, despite some retailers offering cup recycling facilities, as there may not be specialised cup recycling bins at the end location. Single-use disposable beverage cups are not suitable for disposal in most mixed dry recycling bins so even when disposable cups can be recycled it is not a straightforward action. 



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