Should the USU adopt a Latte Levy?
WORDS BY LYDIA BRUNTON
2017 saw the influx of swanky new reusables on campus. Forget your Fjallraven bag, or new off-white Birkenstocks, if you didn’t have a Frank Green keep, you were out of the loop.
If you’re anything like me, a devout 2–a-day strong skim flat white lover, the benefits of a reusable cup are obvious:
1. Environment & sustainability duh
2. Economic cost (discount at USU outlets as well as other local cafes)
3. Carrying around an aesthetically pleasing millennial pastel cup – thankyou Mr Green
I feel like the push for reusables at USYD launched with the ABC’s War on Waste series. Like the legend he is, Craig Reucassel uncovered that in Australia, more than 1 billion coffee cups go to landfill each year. After this episode, I, along with a lot of viewers felt the increasing need and desire to move to sustainable cups — an easy, and foolproof way to do your small part to save the environment.
The USU also hopped on-board the sustainability train by releasing their own reusable USU branded cups as well as stocking Frank Green at all USU outlets. AND to sweeten the deal, buyers received their first coffee free as well as 50c off every coffee purchased with their cup. Sustainability never tasted so satisfying.
However, like all big issues that matter, people care and then they suddenly don’t (Side note: what happened to Kony?). While I haven't surveyed half of the campus, nor collected empirical data on sustainable cup usage, from the handful of friends I’ve spoken to, and the swathes of coffee cups I see people ordering at Taste and Courtyard, it seems that this 50c discount was still not enough to incentivise people to bring their cup to Uni and also not enough to discourage them if they forget.
As consumers, we establish our own willingness-to-pay based on the market price. Most people are willing to pay $4 for a coffee, so a 50 cents discount off that is not enough to stop people from buying their much needed coffee. You’re at Uni, you’re surviving off 4 hours of sleep, you forgot your reusable cup. What are you going to do? The lack of cup is now a sunk cost and you’re going to buy the coffee at $4.
To top it all off, the USUs view on reusables seems to be a bit of façade. They don’t care as much as about the environment and promoting sustainability as they do for their deal with Vittoria. Just recently, I scrolled through USUeats and I found 10 photos promoting “pretty landfill”. Further, the USU is no longer offering a coffee discount to all reusable cup owners, but just those with ACCESS.
What is this year’s USU board (Courtney Thompson, Esther Shim, Grace Franki, Yifan Kong, Adam Torres, Claudia Gulbransen-Diaz, Liliana Tai, Zhixian Wang, Jacob Masina & Hengjie Sun) going to do to make this campus a more environmentally-friendly place? Are they going to prioritise getting an ACCESS card over promoting a sustainable campus?
As the next generation of workers in a world that is lacking sustainable practices, I believe we need to push for the development of sustainable habits and practices now. In some spots in the UK they are proposing a Latte Levy. Customers who forget their reusable cup and require a takeaway cup would be charged a levy on top of their beverage price. This levy would go towards the UK government and their goal of improving the recycling facilities in the city.
As student leaders, surely the USU could consider bringing this sort of scheme to their coffee outlets. Introducing a levy increases the disparity between the discount of having a cup and the price of forgetting your cup. The larger perceived loss will make consumers think twice about purchasing their unsustainable shame (prospect theory - amirite behavioural FINC and ECON students).
I’m not here to be a left-wing nutter, all I care about is sustainability. All I ask is be more conscious about the impact you are having on the world and next time you forget you cup, take some time to sit at the café. Take 10 mins, have your coffee, and then get back to studying or socialising or whatever you’re here at Uni to do.