A rubbish response

10 March 2018, 20:57 | Updated: 10 March 2018, 21:01


In order to stem the tide of thrown away plastic, the government has proposed a latte levy. As usual, our leaders merely proposed the idea and then did nothing. Doing nothing is what they are good at.

If doing nothing were an Olympic event, every four years our government would be on the podium, tears in eyes, watching the Union flag being raised while that dirge about giving our best stuff to the queen rings out.

Theresa May has probably figured that such a tax on single-use coffee cups is not something the public are passionate about, so it is fairly safe to place it on the not-to-do-list.

The phrase “latte levy” might be the problem.

It sounds like the most middle class, entitled, soft southern thing you have ever heard. It's like proposing a Barbour wax jacket tax or a 10% tariff on truffles from Fortnum & Mason.

The benign name hides an awful truth, though. In this country, we throw away almost a half a million plastic lined paper coffee cups every day, of which about 0.25% are recycled.

Despite that, having weighed the options, ministers have rejected calls for a latte levy on takeaway coffee cups to reduce the amount of waste they create.

The government has bravely decided to do nothing about a problem in case the electorate doesn't like it.

The same thing happened with the plastic bag tax.

Once introduced, it reduced the number of plastic bags given out and thrown away by 85%.

The government likes to take great credit for that but it waited an embarrassingly long time before it acted, timidly waiting to see what happened in other countries to see whether governments overseas were hauled over the coals by a furious electorate denied their placcy bag rights.

Denmark was one of the first to adopt the idea, as you would expect. Aren't they always so perfect?

The Danes introduced a plastic bag tax in 2003. It took our government 12 years to catch up, so desperately frightened were they about making any sudden moves.

Ireland introduced a levy on throwaway bags a year earlier in 2002, so it’s not as though we didn't have an English speaking example nearby to follow.

We were one of the last countries on earth to make the change – China, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, France, Bangladesh, Belgium - you name it they did it before we did.

We were pathetically slow to catch up, and the government is still gripped by a paralysis, a desperate fear of doing something that might get them bad press or a thumbs down emoji on Twitter.

The chair of the environmental audit committee, accused the government of talking warm words but taking no action on Britain's terrible record of recycling.

We recycle about 44% of household waste in England, according to the government's own figures, about the same rate as two years ago.

In Wales, they manage over 57%, so it can be done but only if those in power feel the need to act.

Environment secretary Michael Gove feels no such need. He again failed to introduce a plastic bottle deposit scheme, despite Theresa May saying that she was declaring war on single-use plastic.

Not so much war as capitulation.

She said she was considering policies including a tax on takeaway containers. Saying she might do something cancels the need to, you know,  actually do something.

The other way to avoid action is to have a consultation. They take ages and by the time they report their findings, the likelihood is everyone will have forgotten all about the issue and will be concentrating on something else.

A consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on a plastic deposit scheme was carried out last autumn but the government has not published it.

There's money well spent.

Another consultation announced in November by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, into taxes and charges on takeaway packaging and plastic bottles has yet to be launched three months later.

In the meantime, ministers can excuse not doing anything because they don't want to prejudge the consultation.

The environmental audit committee’s key recommendation on reducing coffee cup waste was the introduction of a 25p levy to help fund recycling measures.

That would help change behaviour, might help create less waste and be a benefit to us all in the present and the future.

Instead of that risky endeavour, ministers have chosen to ask coffee companies to voluntarily print an anti-littering message on their throwaway cups.

That's the forward thinking, all-action, go-getter British government in action.

Impressive no?