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  • Writer's picturebrianleddin

Bring your own cup

This week I got the opportunity to ask Ossian Smyth, the Minister for Public Procurement, eGovernment and Circular Economy, about the status of the proposed charge on single-use coffee cups? What is causing the delay to its introduction and what is the anticipated timeline for its introduction?

In the short video below I relayed the question to the minister that I have been getting from a local business owner, the Abbey River Coffee, located in the historic Potato Market next to Mathew Bridge in Limerick. This family-owned and locally run café has been at the forefront of running a sustainable business since it opened a few years ago. 200 million coffee cups go to landfill in this country every year. But if the long queues of people carrying their own cups are anything to go by, this local café is well on the path to reduce the waste from cups to almost zero.

Here is the transcript of the full exchange.

Deputy Ossian Smyth Following the enactment of the Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, draft regulations to introduce an environmental levy on single-use disposable cups were published last October for public consultation, together with a comprehensive regulatory impact assessment. The consultation ran for a period of six weeks, providing an important opportunity for all stakeholders to make their views known. The Department received a significant volume of responses to the consultation. In total, 2,371 submissions were received for the three strands, comprising people who drink coffee, people who sell coffee and everyone else in the cup or coffee business, registering a wide range of views on the application of the levy. A summary consultation report was published online by the Department in December and a full report, including copies of all the submissions received, will be published shortly. The submissions received are also being used to inform an SME test recommended by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which will be published along with the results of the consultation, to show the effect of the regulatory change on businesses. Once I have fully assessed the output from the consultation process, the regulations will be finalised, submitted to the Government for approval and signed. In recognition of the need to prepare for introducing the levy, I have committed to giving retailers at least three months from when the regulations are signed before they are applied. I will use that time to raise awareness about the levy among the public and retailers to ensure a smooth and successful introduction of the levy for retailers and consumers alike.

Deputy Brian Leddin I thank the Minister of State. As he will be well aware, 200 million coffee cups go to landfill in this country every year. It is about time we did something about that and I congratulate him on all the efforts he has made to date in that regard. I am a regular customer at the Abbey River Coffee café, located in the historic Potato Market next to Mathew Bridge in Limerick. It is a family-owned and locally run business that has been at the forefront of running a sustainable business since it opened a few years ago. It already runs a deposit-and-return scheme as part of its operations and has been offering a reduction in price on drinks when the customer brings his or her own cup. The owner has implored me a number of times to ask the Minister of State when the levy is going to be introduced. This proactive business, which wants to see progress in the area, is very keen to get on with it and to bring in a system whereby those 200 million paper cups will not go to landfill every year.

Deputy Ossian Smyth The regulatory impact assessment projected 200 million cups as an absolute minimum and estimates that the real figure could be far higher than that. I expect, as a result of the public consultation, to recommend some changes to what was in the draft regulations. I spoke to many café owners throughout the country to get their direct feedback. As well as waiting for people to come to me, I went to people to ask them what they thought. I believe a number of alternatives to single-use cups will emerge whereby customers who arrive in a café will be offered something else, whether that is a sharing scheme, a cup for purchase with a number of free coffees or a deposit-and-return scheme. People will not be left short. They will be offered something else if they have forgotten their cup that day. I expect the change will be similar to what happened with the plastic bag levy in that people will get used to it. As for when it will happen, one thing that emerged from the public consultation was that cafés were asking for the longest possible implementation time, of one year or more, while the public was asking for the shortest possible implementation time and wondering why it could not be put in place the following day. The compromise will be somewhere between those two requests.

Deputy Brian Leddin I welcome the Minister of State's reply. I would say there is overwhelming support among the general public for this measure. I would argue that many businesses are not pulling in the other direction. The business I spoke about in Limerick certainly wants to see progress in the area. It is just one example of thousands across the country that want to do the right thing and that are taking proactive measures. I look forward to reading the report the Minister of State mentioned. I would like to think that the vast majority of people recognise that this is the right thing to do. That 200 million coffee cups a year boils down to approximately 530,000 a day. As the Minister of State said, that is the lower end of the estimate. We need to get on top of this and move as quickly as we can.

Deputy Ossian Smyth Yes, there is great appetite on the part of the public. Surveys are showing that people want this. However, at the same time I need to make sure that it is a successfully introduced scheme and that it takes account of all the concerns that are raised by cafés which have made their submissions so I am taking time over that. There will be some changes to the draft regulations as a result of what I read. There are cafés, such as Bread 41 on Pearse Street, that have done without disposable cups for some years and that have been very successful as a result. Some cafés have led on this and have saved themselves money, not just in the cost of a cup and lid, which can be 20c or more, but also with regard to the cost of storage and waste disposal. This measure will ultimately benefit both café owners and business, as well as consumers and the natural environment, by reducing litter. Irish Business Against Litter has very clearly said that coffee cups constitute a large portion of the waste it sees when it carries out its surveys.


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