Charge could save 300m coffee cups from landfill

Coffee shops should charge customers for disposable cups in a move which could save 300 million cups a year being thrown away, new research has claimed.

Most coffee shops do not provide recyclable cups as standard.
Most coffee shops do not provide recyclable cups as standard.

Scientists from Cardiff University said that a charge on disposable cups increased the use of re-usable coffee cups by 3.4 per cent.

The study, which trialled different measures in a range of cafes, found that the provision of free re-usable alternatives combined with clear environmental messaging and a charge on disposable cups increased the use of reusable cups in one cafe from 5.1 per cent to 17.4 per cent. It said that it believed overall use could be reduced by 12.5 per cent - or 200 million cups a year.

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Meanwhile, other incentives, such as environmental messaging in cafes; the availability of re-usable cups and the distribution of free re-usable cups also led to increases in the use of re-useable cups.

The most notable finding was that, while a charge on disposable cups increased the use of re-usable coffee cups, a discount on re-usable coffee cups had no impact on their usage.

Professor Wouter Poortinga of Cardiff University and the author of the report, said: “While the increases for individual measures were modest, the greatest behavioural change was when the measures were combined.

“There is an important nuance when it comes to financial incentives. People are far more sensitive to losses than to gains when making decisions – so if we really want to change a customer’s behaviour then a charge on a disposable cup is more likely to be effective.”

British coffee drinkers get through 10,000 disposable cups every two minutes - more than seven million a day, or 2.5 billion a year.

Prof Poortinga added: “Our results show that, on average, the use of reusable coffee cups could be increased by up to 12.5 per cent with a combination of measures. With this in mind, the UK’s usage of an estimated 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups each year could be cut by up to 300 million coffee cups.”

Most of the cups used by major coffee shop chains are not recyclable due to the polyethylene which makes the material waterproof. They are technically capable of being recycled, however there are very few recycling centres in the UK with the specialised equipment to do so.

Louise Whitaker, head of marketing at coffee firm Bewley’s, which commissioned Cardiff University to carry out the research, said: “There is a huge amount of waste being sent to landfill each year and promoting reusable cups is part of the solution.”

The findings of the research will be submitted to the Government’s Inquiry into Coffee Cup Waste. The Environmental Audit Committee earlier this month launched the inquiry into the damage being done to the environment by disposable drinks packaging, focusing on the impact of plastic bottles and coffee cups. It will look at what actions are being undertaken by industry and Government to reduce waste generated by coffee cups and plastic bottles and investigate possible solutions.