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Britain looking at 'latte levy' to reduce coffee cup waste

Kay's Starbucks coffee choices montage

While I make my coffee at home during the week, I'm a Starbucks fan on weekends.

During hot Texas summers, those icy Frappuccinos are heaven. Heck, even in our not-that-cold winters, I get them.

(Note to Starbucks: I sooo missed the Chile Mocha option this past holiday season. This flavor should be a regular, year-round option, especially here in Texas where chile peppers are one of the major food groups. We even have an official state pepper. But I digress. But bring it back, please!)

When we do get the occasional cold spell, I'm an Espresso Macchiato fan.

My drink preferences, however, mean I'm contributing to litter. While my Starbucks drinks come in either paper or plastic cups, neither container is easily recyclable.

Disposable dilemma: Paper beverage cups usually are laminated with plastic or polyethylene to make them waterproof. Traditional paper mills and recycling facilities are not equipped to handle the process of stripping the plastic away.

As for the cold-drink plastic cups, they tend to be made of polypropylene (#5) plastic. It is recyclable, but requires a different system. That means that many curbside recycling programs won't accept this type of plastic.

Starbucks is not alone in using environmentally unfriendly cups. The same types of disposable cups are common in retail coffee shops around the world. And the growing love of these beverages is causing major landfill issues globally.

U.K. considering action: In the United Kingdom, it's been estimated that the mass of nonrecyclable items, including takeout food boxes and beverage cups, would fill London's iconic Royal Albert Hall a thousand times over every year.

1,000 times. Every year. In a relatively small country like the U.K.

Another report says that 2.5 billion coffee cups are discarded each year in Great Britain, enough to circle the planet five and a half times.

That's why some British lawmakers are calling for what has been dubbed the latte levy.

This proposed tax of 25 pence, or 34 cents U.S., would be added to every cup of coffee sold. The fee would amount to around 10 percent per cup, a tax that supporters hope would be fiscally painful enough to prompt caffeine addicts to bring their own reusable cups to their favorite coffee cafe.

This week's Sunday Shout Out (the first of the new 2018 tax year!) goes to three publications that have covered the latte levy:

Problems with taxing habits: Will such a so-called Pigovian tax work on U.K. coffee drinkers? Maybe.

Data shows that higher prices, either imposed by the markets themselves or as government-backed taxes, do have some effect on consumer choices.

But the taxes also create a lot of ire among the electorate. Most recently here in the United States, adverse public reaction prompted Chicago-area officials to back off a proposed soda tax.

All my fellow U.S. Starbucks fans and I will be watching what happens in the U.K.

If the latte levy is implemented and works better than, for example, Starbucks offering discounts to customers who bring in their own cups, we could see similar eco-tax attempts in parts of the United States.

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