SO, MPs ARE CALLING for a tax on takeaway cups. Good. We chuck away 2.5 billion of them a year in the UK – of which less than 0.25% can be recycled.
But here’s the thing: it’s not really the tax itself that changes behaviour, is it? The tax is really a way for us to signal ‘we'd like to change our habits’. Do you really take re-useable bags to the supermarket avoid paying 5p? Or because it's now 'the normal thing to do’?
So, if what we’re really after is a change of habit, here’s a suggestion. And unlike implementing a tax, it doesn’t require any new laws, and we don’t need to wait for politicians.
Let’s change what we call takeaway cups.
Let’s call them ‘landfill cups’.
Our language around recycling is unbalanced. That’s because the names for most things were settled long before recycling was a thing. It’s why we tend to think in terms of having ‘rubbish bin’ and a ‘recycling bin’. ‘Recycling’ describes what’s going to happen to the things we throw away whereas ‘rubbish’ simply describes the stuff. If both labels were equally describing what was going to happen to the contents, we’d have ‘recycling’ and ‘landfill’ bins.
It’s the same with takeaway cups. In marketing terms, ‘takeaway’ describes the ‘benefit’ of a paper cup. (You can carry it around with you!). Calling it a ‘single use’ cup is more neutral – it describes the main ‘feature’ of the cup. (You can only use it once.) But as we’re collectively waking up to just how bad and unnecessary takeaway cups are, why not let’s call them something which focuses more honestly on the most enduring feature of these cups.
They’ll end up in landfill. So let's force ourselves to admit that every time we ask for them, talk about them, or use them.
They're landfill cups.