A proposed fee of 20 cents on disposable coffee cups “sends the wrong message about sustainability” and the government needs to reconsider its strategy, according to a body representing retail in Ireland.
The measure was announced earlier this year by The government as part of the bill on circular economy, which aims to reduce wastage and influence behavior.
Foreign Minister Ossian Smyth has said that the fee is designed to wean people from disposable containers and switch to reusable container mugs.
When announcing the measures in the bill at the end of March, Smyth said that the use of recyclable cups for takeaway coffee decreased during the Covid pandemic, but stressed that the public health councils said they were safe and that there should be no concerns about the spread of Covid-19.
But the CEO of Retail Excellence has now said that the proposed fee sent out a mixed message to retailers.
Duncan Graham said the measure “does not make sense” and could have unintended consequences for businesses.
“The reality behind this, and where the Greens are taking us with this, is the elimination of paper cups and their replacement with reusable plastic cups,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
“Paper mugs are recyclable and are often compostable and we are replacing them with a plastic mug that could potentially end up in the landfill, and that is a major cause for concern for us.”
Mr Graham said the government should look at providing workplaces with recyclable containers so people can dispose of their coffee cups separately.
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He referred to a British study which claimed that only 6% of people said they would go permanently towards a keep cup, while 8% would choose to forgo a takeaway coffee if a fee was introduced.
Retailers want to make lasting changes, but the focus at the moment seems to be on reuse.
“We’re just saying that in addition to recycling, we also need to look at recycling, and the government has a role to play in providing these recycling points and not adding a significant cost to an industry at the moment.”
Graham also said that 80% of companies recently surveyed by Retail Excellence wanted to be more sustainable, while 77% said they needed to change certain methods and adopt more sustainable products.
He said many “simply did not know where to start” and needed advice and further guidance.
Lessons from plastic bag fee
People were worried about the plastic bag fee when it first came in, but it has proven to be successful, a municipal councilor from the Dublin Green Party has said.
When Cllr Donna Cooney spoke on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, she said that many cafes already offer discounts to customers who bring their own cup, but that has not been enough to encourage more people to do so.
She said she did not think the fee would lead to fewer people buying takeaway coffee, as coffee “has never been more popular”.
“I do not see a reduction in the number of people drinking coffee, it will only mean that people will bring their keep-cups,” she said.
Cllr Cooney said that the municipalities spend a lot of money on waste collection services and that this could be reduced if there were fewer coffee cups.
She said they are working towards a total circular economy and reduced packaging waste.
Colin Harmon from the coffee chain 3fe in the capital says that the fee is a disproportionate step that will be harmful for a number of companies.
He said that cafes have been involved in sustainability for many years, and pointed out that 3fe first sold a keep cup in 2009.
He said that his company also gives discounts to those customers who use a keep cup.
Mr Harmon said cafes will be worse off as a result of this move, while people will be “led” to believe that coffee cups are the big problem when transport and agriculture are much bigger environmental problems.
It is a very small problem in relation to other waste, he said.
He said he thought cafes were growing in popularity because they were becoming hubs where people could go and meet.
This is good, he said, but the costs are rising for these stores and it is getting harder and harder for entrepreneurs.
Retail Excellence tomorrow launches a Sustainable Irish Retail Action initiative in partnership with Champion Green to support companies take practical steps to become more sustainable.
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