Single-use coffee cups have been banned in Scottish government buildings, according to a story published by the BBC today, 30 May, writes Planet Vending Editor, Ian Reynolds-Young.
In part of my report on the AVA meeting in Manchester just before Christmas last year, I made what I believed to be a completely reasonable and measured point. In a nutshell, I suggested that no amount of well-intentioned initiatives to enable the recycling of plastic-coated ‘paper’ cups could possible quell the groundswell of public feeling, vis-a-vis that single-use cups should be outlawed.
There were two catalysts that took single-use cups over the watershed dividing what is acceptable and what isn’t. Individually, they were powerfully symbolic but together, they became an unstoppable force.
First in to bat was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, with his potent London bus festooned with single-use coffee cups, who proclaimed ‘wake up and smell the waste’. His energetic campaign provoked a feeding frenzy in the media, characterised by headlines such as ‘Plastic recycling: Why are 99.75% of coffee cups not recycled?’, (HERE), and ‘Taking the Lid Off The Coffee Cup Scandal’, HERE.
At the other end and also knocking skeptics for six was the BBC’s epic natural history sequel, Blue Planet 2, which dedicated a whole episode in reporting the effect that discarded plastic was having on the world’s oceans and their inhabitants. Radio Times called it ‘an unflinching look at the impact of human activity on marine life’, HERE. Images such as those that showed an albatross unwittingly feeding plastic to its chick rocked people’s sensibilities.
These two events gave priceless and unstoppable impetus to organisations and pressure groups, such as the Plastic Pollution Coalition. The PPC launched a campaign, ‘Recycling Is Not Enough’ and in January 2018, delegates to the World Economic Forum in Davos faced the full brunt of the environmentalists’ ire.
The writing was on the wall for a raft of products and for paper cups with plastic coated interiors in particular, the sands were running through the hourglass more rapidly with each succeeding day.
My article on the subject was read by fewer than 100 people before a meeting of our directors decided to remove it from Planet Vending, in the face of vituperative criticism from individuals and organisations who were purple-faced with rage. In effect, the chorus of disapproval before which we bent our collective knee was, metaphorically speaking, ‘shooting the messenger’. We weren’t responsible for the sea-change in public attitudes to ‘paper’ cups, we were simply saying that this was an issue that wasn’t going to go away any time soon, and what’s more that the vending industry could steal a march on other coffee and beverage sellers by moving unilaterally to address the problem.
As for the Scottish Parliament’s decision to ban single use cups by 4 June, ensuring that hot drinks are sold only in re-usable mugs in the future – well, you didn’t need to be Nostradamus to see that coming. In the buildings operated by the Parliament, namely St Andrew’s House, Victoria Quay; Atlantic Quay, Marine Lab; Saughton House and Buchanan House, 450,000 cups are – were – thrown away each year and as Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham told the BBC, ‘that’s enough cups to cover the distance between Edinburgh and Dundee. The Scottish government is determined to lead by example when it comes to tackling the scourge of plastic littering our countryside and polluting our seas.’
Single-use coffee cups were not the first everyday item to be singled out for action. Beating them to the chopping block were plastic straws, which met their fatal doom in January. Nor will cups be the final target. Mrs Cunningham is championing a nationally co-ordinated bottle return scheme and she intends to eliminate cotton buds from pharmacy shelves completely.
So, if I can steal a line from Elton John: ‘Don’t shoot me, I’m only the piano player.’ As one, vending operators have to get with the zeitgeist sooner rather than later – and the moral of the tale for the UK’s suppliers of single-use coffee cups and peripherals – many of whom have been supporters of Planet Vending over the years, so we take no joy in saying this – is that they have to face the crescendo of music that is the modern attitude to single-use products. Now.