It was the year of 2002. The Euro had just come into circulation, Roy Keane waved goodbye to Saipan ahead of the World Cup and we were glued to our TV screens as Nadine Coyle lied about her age on Popstars.
Despite all that, one of the biggest controversies of the year was a new levy that would see us paying 15 cent per plastic bag. The absolute cheek! Twenty years later and we don’t bat an eyelid at packing up those bags-for-life for our weekly shop. It’s part of our routine, part of our psyche and in the past 20 years, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic have been saved. This is the line of thinking that is behind the proposed new 20 cent levy on takeaway coffee cups.
The levy was announced earlier this year by Green Party TD, Ossian Smyth, Minister of state with responsibility for public procurement and eGovernment (Department of Public Expenditure and Reform) and circular economy and communications (Department of Environment, Climate and Communications). The proposal is set to become a reality in the coming months. The project, which has been in the works for over two years, is part of the National Waste Prevention Plan.
Speaking to Irish Country Living, Minister Smyth says, “The plastic cup levy is just one part of the circular economy. This is where you look at waste as a resource rather than a problem. So instead of taking your waste products and burning it or putting it into a landfill, you figure out how to use the outputs and reuse it in industry, the same way a farmer uses animal waste as manure, for example. It is part of a European-wide approach to waste. Furthermore, given shortages associated with the situation in the Ukraine, this initiative makes us less reliant on raw materials.
“This levy on coffee cups is just the first step. In the future, the Government will be looking at other ways that we can collectively benefit the environment. For example, we will be looking at the waste that comes from fast food outlets such as the cold drinks containers (which are just as damaging to the environment as hot drink containers). We’ll be also looking at packaging for burgers and trays etc as these are all single use, and so many people are familiar with the scene where you leave a concert and there is a carpet of plastic glasses on the ground. All this has to be tackled.”
Minister Smyth says, “It’s all about changing consumer behavior – getting consumers to think ahead, to have a reusable coffee cup in their car or in their bag.”
One could argue that purchasing a coffee is often more of an impulse buy whereas shopping is usually a planned trip and people have reusable bags in their car. The Minister replies, “That is a fair point but I think consumers are very aware that we all need to play our part for the environment. For many people, it will soon become a habit to have a reusable coffee cup in the car, the same way that you check that you have reusable bags in the boot.”
Looking back 20 years to when the plastic bag levy was introduced, there were many that thought it wouldn’t last, that it would never work. However, because of this levy, consumption of plastic bags reduced by 90%. Furthermore, disposable plastic bags accounted for 5% of Ireland’s litter in 2001. In 2015, it accounted for just 0.13%.
Minister Smyth says, “This is the rate of success we are hoping to achieve with the coffee cup levy. In real numbers, the Irish public use 20 million cups a year. A 90% reduction would bring that down to 200,000 cups which is a huge difference.”
Is 20 cent enough to warrant a collective change in thinking? “In terms of the amount, we sought opinions from both economists and the public and found that anything under that amount would not have the effect we want to achieve in terms of changing consumer behaviour. In fact, we have had a lot of people saying 20 cents is too low but we’ll see how it goes for the first year or so.”
The way the new levy will work is that the 20 cent will be paid to the café or the petrol station, whoever you buy your coffee from. The collector of the levy is yet to be confirmed. However, the plastic bag levy is collected by Revenue so it is expected that they too will collect the coffee cup levy. Minister Smyth says, “There will be some exemptions, similar to the plastic bag levy where you don’t pay for small plastic bags when buying meat or fish. Disposable cups that you buy for a kid’s party in the supermarket, for example, will not be subject to the levy.”
Approval from the European Union is expected in November with the intent that the levy will come into effect by the end of the year.
Even though the levy hasn’t even been introduced yet, some innovative companies have already seen business opportunities. 2GoCup is a Dublin business now being used by 150 locations. The way it works is that when you order your hot drink, you give a €1 deposit and your coffee is served in a reusable cup. After you’ve finished, you either hand back your cup and get your money back or you exchange it for a new 2GoCup when you order your next coffee. We expect to see many other businesses seeing the opportunity in this levy.
Cups for keeps
Moonshine Keep Cup- Ilka Denker
Start from €17
The KeepCup company was founded by two Australian siblings who run their own café in Melbourne. They were concerned about the impact single-use coffee cups were having on the environment so sustainability is at the very heart of it. The Moonshine KeepCup is definitely ticking all the boxes for me! The cup itself is clear, while the lid comes in a selection of colours. Aesthetics matter! It’s also very lightweight and it really surprised me how long it keeps the contents hot. It is definitely handy when on-the-go and you can be sipping away on it for a long time. Speaking about being on-the-go: I always fire my reusable coffee cups into my bag when I’m finished drinking (yes, I always leave the last bit) and had to deal with coffee stains numerous times, because the cups were leaking – not with the Moonshine KeepCup! The lid has a breather hole (which enables liquid flow and air to escape), which is covered completely once the lid’s plug is closed. Ingenious; my bag’s suffering is over! www.eu.keepcup.com
Mother Reusables- Ciara Leahy
An hour into my walk around the park with my pal and my coffee is still hot. That is one of the reasons why the Mother Reusables has become my favourite cup for out and about. Also it’s an Irish company and the cups are made with 100% biodegradable materials with carbon neutral shipping and a tree is planted (backed by the Eden Reforestation Project) for every bottle sold. From a practical point of view, the cup is double walled and it has a little button which closes up the sprout while you’re not using it so drinks actually do stay hot for longer. But more importantly, I have an active toddler so I don’t have to worry that it will spill on her. I really dislike soft plastic reusable cups but this one has a hard lid with is BPA plastic free and very nice to drink from. At €35, it is pricey but I have it over a year now and its still in perfect condition and I expect to be drinking from it for a long time to come. www.motherreusables.com
Neon Kactus- Amii McKeever
Back in 2011, I was given a coffee mug, emblazoned with a company logo which I carried around for nearly 10 years. I liked it as it kept my coffee (relatively) warm, it didn’t leak (much) and (importantly) my coffee never tasted metallic. I use the past tense here as last year, this cup was replaced by a Neon Kactus. So what were the factors that caused this shifting of allegiance? First; the Kactus keeps my coffee hot for far longer, especially considering my commute is from Kilkenny to Dublin. Secondly, I like to get to my destination without coffee leaking on my clothes. This is a no leak cup which means you can close it up and throw it in your bag. Third; the reason no other cup replaced my previous one for ten years was because it didn’t impact the taste of coffee. The Kactus also comes up trumps here. I also like the narrow rim ?of the Kactus compared to my old ?thick mouthed cup. A few other points of note are that its lightweight, it’s double walled insulated stainless steel and holds 380ml in volume (a can of coke is 330ml). www.faerly.ie