Weekly Poll – Charges on Single-use Drinks Cups (Week Beginning 16 May 2022)

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 16 May 2022, we asked a question about Charges on Single-use Drinks Cups.

Please note that this is a snapshot of the views of our membership and does not reflect a policy stance of Disability Equality Scotland. If you plan to reference the findings featured in this report, please contact us in advance so that we are aware of this.

Results

Question. Do you support the introduction of charges to help limit the use of coffee cups and other single-use disposable beverage containers?

  • Yes 61% (49 respondents)
  • No 39% (31 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Charges on Single-use Drinks Cups

The Scottish Government recently announced plans to introduce a mandatory charge on coffee cups and other single-use disposable beverage containers.

Around 200 million single-use disposable beverage cups are used every year in Scotland, with this figure expected to rise to 310 million by 2025. Zero Waste Scotland estimate that disposable cups generate around 4,000 tonnes of waste each year, with around 40,000 of these cups littered in Scotland annually. Due to their waterproof plastic lining, they can be hard to recycle, resulting in most of them being incinerated or sent to landfill.

A panel of environmental advisers previously recommended a national, mandatory requirement to sell beverages and disposable cups separately, including an initial minimum price of between 20-25p per cup. A narrow majority of respondents (61%) supported the proposal to introduce charges on single-use drinks cups, with recognition of the necessity to take meaningful action to reduce plastic pollution.

“I believe in zero waste and feel that by charging for single use cups there will be a reduction in their use.”

“Anything to encourage people to use recyclable cups. We need to do as much as we can to try and protect our environment.”

“Our environment will be our children’s playground in the years to come and it’s for them we must recycle as much as possible. A charge will help reduce use and bring forward a new way to cut waste.”

Reusable Cups

Respondents who agreed with a charge on single-use cups were supportive of encouraging people to move to reusable alternatives, such as flasks.

“Disposable cups are a waste of money and resources. Carry your own cup.”

“It would be fantastic to see this introduced with alternatives to the single use cups, e.g., a circular use system where you can “lend a cup” and return it.”

“There is no hardship carrying your own cup as most people use a cup at work to drink tea/coffee from.”

“The cup charge will encourage me to keep my stainless-steel reusable cup in the car.”

“I have been using my own reusable cups/mugs for years. I get very annoyed when in town I see cups, plastic bags etc all over the place.”

“I believe that all items used should be reusable. I use a water bottle that was intended for single use, and I am now reusing it.”

“For too long, businesses would not let you use your own cup, which made sense for people to use their own because of the environment. Also, some people are more comfortable with their own cup or beaker because it may have a different handle or something that makes it easier for that person.”

“People who bring their own cups or flasks should be charged less to encourage less use of paper cups.”

“I bought myself a vacuum flask for personal use and started getting various small discounts from coffee shops for presenting it to be filled – a de-facto charge on disposable cups already. I think it’s a totally fine idea.”

Single-use Carrier Bags

Comparisons were made with the Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Regulations 2014, whereby all retailers in Scotland are required to charge a minimum of 10p for each new single-use carrier bag. Some respondents believed that like the charge on single-use carrier bags, a charge on cups would help to reduce plastic waste and encourage a move to reusable alternatives.

“I agree that our reliance on single use cups should be reduced. With the charge on single use carrier bags, I’m now in the habit of keeping a bag for life in the car.”

“A charge has worked with plastic carrier bags.”

“It will be a positive move – people will learn to become more efficient eventually. The bag charge in stores did change people and how they plan ahead.”

Impracticalities

In contrast, respondents who did not agree with the charge on single use-cups reflected on the impracticalities of reusable alternatives. This is of concern for some disabled people who believed they would not have the space to store a reusable cup along with medication, mobility aids and assistive technology. As a result, disabled people were concerned that they would have no choice but to pay the charge for a single-use cup.

“I’m an insulin-dependent diabetic who doesn’t drive and I already have to carry a glucose testing kit, insulin and needles and other medication. It may sound selfish and as though I don’t care about protecting the environment, but I feel I have to deal to prepare for going out without the added responsibility of having to carry a flask.”

“So fed up with having to leave the house like a pack mule, have you phone? dairy? dressings? medication? and on it goes, I think the baggage is excessive for a disabled person and it is tiresome to have to make a plan to go out on any appointment.”

“I cannot drive, so I have to carry everything. The last thing I want is another thing to carry.”

“Due to my disability, I cannot carry my own cups so I would have to pay extra every time.”

“Many people may not be able to get/remember to bring reusable cups (a lot of disabled people!).”

“Many disabled people don’t have the ability to carry spare cups with them all day, many of us have enough to carry as it is. I get the idea behind it, but the government are constantly adding costs to disabled lives and we are struggling as it is. This government needs to wake up to the reality disabled people are facing, can’t get access to many places still, can’t get straws that fit our needs and now we are going to be charged more because we can’t carry empty cups around all day. Disability isn’t a one size fits all.”

Accessibility

In addition, some disabled people may be unable to source a reusable cup which meets their accessibility requirements. Comparisons were made with the ban on single-use plastic straws, where an exemption is in place for people who need them to eat or drink independently.

“There are going to be similar issues as with disposable straws etc. that will disproportionately impact disabled people. One example of that is the suggestion that people can just use flasks – not everyone with a disability could prepare a flask (I can’t). I already have a collapsible cup, but I have had problems with retailers refusing to fill it so don’t take it with me.”

“When I travel, I have a lot of equipment with me. I also take more than 20 medications and often need to stop for a drink. I cannot take a flask because I have arthritis and can’t open it. I think it’s important to reduce plastics but imposing charges for everything is not the answer. Instead, investment in science, technology and innovation would encourage the next generation to find fair solutions.”

“Perhaps some kind of exemption if you need them for a medical reason, but unlike with straws I’m not sure if there are any people who need a flimsy paper cup.”

Cost of Living

Disabled people often face increased costs compared to non-disabled people, which has been exasperated by the rising cost of living. In addition, disabled people are less likely to be employed and earn less when they do work, therefore increasing their reliance on the welfare system. When taking into consideration these factors, disabled people are more likely to be living in poverty and will have less disposable income. There was a perception amongst respondents that disabled people will be disproportionately impacted by a charge on single-use cups due to being unable to store and source reusable alternatives.

“We need to consider people on low incomes and disabled people when we talk about charging for single use items.”

“People are already struggling financially without adding any more charges – It is simply another backdoor tax.”

“I understand the reason why, however, with the cost of living rising, these will be a luxury for many.”

“Bold to assume that disabled people can afford take away coffee in the current climate.”

“Prices are dear enough. Why are we being charged even more?”

“Life is hard enough for us at present from us all without more charges.”

“It could mean a parent of lesser means will no longer be able to afford to buy their children an occasional treat such as a hot chocolate, a slush drink or a meal at McDonald’s, for example. As someone who has spent my entire life in poverty (I’m in my mid-forties), I know how much a little thing like a hot chocolate or a slush drink can mean to a child who only gets a treat like this very occasionally.”

“Having worked for NHS I have become used to paying extra if I wanted to use a disposable cup. I do worry though that this may have a negative impact on the members of community who live on low income and wonder if it would be better initially to charge a smaller amount to introduce this new charge, then slowly grow this charge as people become used to bringing their own flask or suitable container. However, in order to protect the environment, I do support this and other similar initiatives.”

Alternative Solutions

Respondents reflected on the additional actions and initiatives that can also be taken into consideration to reduce plastic pollution.

“Perhaps extending the proposed bottle return scheme could be a valid approach. Replace the single use containers with fully recyclable options with a deposit on them to encourage recycling and allow for suitable waste streams to be put in place. If people don’t recycle them – the 25p can go to improving recycling facilities. If they are recycled it is a win anyway.”

“There are many, many options for single use containers that are recyclable (even for coffee). Wouldn’t moving towards these solutions as well be another approach in reducing landfill.”

“Unfortunately, the only way we can stop this build up of plastic is by hitting people in the pocket. It would be more sensible to just stop making items with plastic instead of just talking about doing it.”

“The only way to “encourage people to make the move to reusable alternatives” is to not have any single use plastics available at all, to stop using it, for the Governments to ban its manufacture and use. If people want a hot drink, they will just have to do without!”

“It’s a small change and I’d prefer to see the Scottish Government focusing on larger changes if I’m honest, but these initiatives aren’t necessarily getting in the way of doing larger things as well. So, we’ll see.”

Conclusion

A narrow majority of respondents (61%) agreed with the introduction of charges to help limit the use of coffee cups and other single-use disposable beverage containers. There was recognition of the need to take meaningful action to help reduce plastic pollution and move to reusable alternatives. However, some respondents stated that reusable alternatives would not be suitable for some disabled people as they would not have the space to store them, or they may find it challenging to source a reusable cup that meets their accessibility requirements. Concerns were also raised about the impact a charge would have on people on low incomes who are living in poverty, which has been exasperated by the rising cost of living.