Coffee sector works to smash reliance on plastic

Coffee sector works to smash reliance on plastic

With last week’s news that Starbucks UK is giving away 2,000 reusable cups at Gatwick South airport in a one-month trial set to save 7,000 disposable coffee cups from landfill, Beverage Business World looks at how the sector’s movement against single-use-plastics (SUP) is growing.

Coffee shop operators, the vast majority of which have strong sustainable and ethical codes of business at their core, are stepping up a gear to help turn the tide against waste.

Sam Roberts of Boston Tea Party, the first operator to ban all single use cups from its 22 sites, has gone one step further by banning single use plastic milk bottles, while next year it plans to rid single-use plastic from its supply chain. BTP has also revealed (Propel, June 18) that it had the "best year ever", seeing recent like-for-likes up 9% (it's now over 12-months since the ban).

This week, The Plumstead Pantry in London's SE18 took a stand against plastic, when it stopped selling take-away drinks in disposable cups, offering customers a choice of eCoffee bamboo or Chilly's reusable cups to buy.

Joint owner Ashley Jones, who set up the cafe with his wife Julia Jones four years ago, said he believed take-away sales could be hit by as much as 25%, as experienced by BTP, but believed it was the right thing to do.

"Our focus is on ethical, local and seasonal products to create what is our gastro cafe. I'm sure some customers won't be happy, but we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint," said Jones.

Before the ban, The Plumstead Pantry was selling 10-15 reusable cups per week.

Percol claims to be the first coffee brand to have received the ‘Plastic Free Trust Mark’ from A Plastic Planet, with its aim to give customers a “plastic free option, without compromising on price”.

With what’s being called the “Blue Planet effect”, after David Attenborough’s TV series, it is widely felt that there’s an open door for operators to push against, in terms of winning customers’ hearts and minds. But many in the sector believe it’s time the Government gave the war on plastic some ammunition, by introducing a punitive tax, as it successfully did with its 5p plastic carrier bag charge.

PRESS Coffee’s co-founder Andy Wells said: “No-one could argue against a Government-enforced levy, which worked so successfully with carrier bags. It would help get the message across to the consumer about switching to reusable cups.

“We’ve introduced compostable cups into our business, but the problem with this is that there isn’t industrial composting, so it’s going to end up in general recycling or landfill. We need the infrastructure for compostables to work.”

He added: “I’m just the middle-man, the consumers need to be more accepting of the need to change and this needs to be driven by Government. Unfortunately, we simply couldn’t afford to do what Boston Tea Party has done. We’d go bankrupt!”

Wells added that PRESS Coffee had seen reusable cup use increase by 35-40% among its regular morning customers.

The Gentlemen Barista’s director and founder Henry Ayers described what BTP and The Plumstead Pantry were doing as “inspirational”, but called on the high street’s big boys to do more. “Today, we’re all saying ‘wow, when we hear of someone banning plastic. But in 5-10 years, people will look back and wonder it didn’t happen before.

“We’ve made a conscious choice to opt for recyclable and bio-degradable products.”

In Nottinghamshire, Plastic Free Pantry (a social enterprise started in 2017 as an antidote to plastic waste) sells coffee, juice and tea, along with other items, without using any plastic packaging. And in Reading, Berkshire, the council aims to lead the charge on reducing single-use plastics in the town, after Councillor Rachel Eden, the Labour candidate for Reading West, put forward a motion for a ban on single use plastics.

BTP’s Roberts said punitive taxes had been shown to work by influencing poor behaviour and called on other operators to “be the change you want to see” by seeking to deal with what was a by-product of the business.  

Caravan Restaurant, Bar & Coffee Roastery’s  creative director and co-founder Laura Harper-Hinton said she was in favour of a ‘latte levy’, while The Gentlemen Baristas and PRESS Coffee have sought to further reduce plastic use by opting for reusable plastic tubs to store their coffee.

  • Starbucks’ Gatwick trial sees customers being given a reusable cup, which they can return to one of five ‘Cup Check-In’ points, located throughout the terminal.
  • In spring 2018, Government rejected calls from the Environmental Audit Committee for a 25p ‘latte levy’ (Beverage Business World, March 13, 2018).
  • For more information on stands and sponsorship at European Coffee, Tea & Soft Drink Expo 2020, which will take place at London’s Olympia on 19 and 20 May, contact Sukhvir Hayre on +44 (0) 203 668 9809 or email
  • Laura Harper-Hinton, co-founder & creative director, Caravan Roasters & Restaurants, Henry Ayers, director & founder, The Gentlemen Baristas and Andy Wells, Co-Founder, Press Coffee, are on the Steering Committee for European Coffee, Tea & Soft Drink Expo
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