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MPs in their cups

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It's interesting that many who have spent a lot of time arguing that MPs must make more decisions suddenly don't like it when they come up with an answer that doesn't apparently fit with the zeitgeist. The matter in question was whether or not to apply a 25p charge on disposable coffee cups, as used by all those coffee shops you can't avoid these days. The MPs said 'No.' And they were right.

The problem is often compared with the success of the 5p charge on supermarket carrier bags. But it's a very different problem. Not only is it very easy to carry an empty shopping bag, we are much less likely to go supermarket shopping on a whim. And the 5p bag is an optional charge - I can choose whether or not to buy a bag. I can take away my purchase without one. I often do with a small shop. Try taking away your coffee without a cup.

More to the point, the solution is simply economic madness. According to a Cardiff University study, applying a charge would result in 3.4% fewer disposable cups being used. Leaving aside that this is a pathetic percentage, we have to look at what is being done by imposing a tax. We would be replacing the cost of disposing of those 3.4% of cups responsibly - hard to see how that can amount to more than £2-3 million a year - with at tax on 100% of cups - which would cost the consumer over £600 million a year.

This is a classic case of greenwash, where being seen to do the right thing is considered more important that actually sorting things out. A coffee cup tax would not work, and parliament should be congratulated for spotting this. It would be far better if they made it easier to recycle coffee cups - helped, perhaps by encouraging the use of this kind of cup.

This has been a Green Heretic publication.

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