Wake Up and Smell the Coffee…..Cup Waste

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We are becoming increasingly aware of the devastating impact single use plastic disposables have on our environment. If we don’t take immediate action it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish in the Oceans by 2050.

The easy option is to grab a coffee to go in a single use cup which is discarded after just 15 minutes, the majority of which end up in landfill and half a million cups littered in the UK every day. This linear take make and dispose approach is not sustainable, draining resources and resulting in surplus waste. 

Cup Recycling

Perhaps the biggest issue with disposable coffee cups is the misconception between their alleged recyclability and the rate at which this actually happens. In principle cups can be recycled and some coffee companies actively promote this on their packaging, however the reality is the plastic lining makes recycling difficult with less than 1% of disposable coffee cups being recycled.

Reusable Cups

Reusable to go systems are starting to become an ethical choice with a move towards this new way of consumerism but there is still big resistance to change. We need to explore how systems can be implemented to evolve as a form of soft education, a daily nudge as an imbedded strategy for behavioural change, awareness, understanding, reflection, action and impact of lasting change. 

Research

In 2016, University of Cardiff on behalf of Bewleys researched the impact of introducing reusable cups and found that financial incentives, the availability of reusable alternatives and clear messaging reminding customers of the environmental impact of single use coffee cups has a direct impact on consumer behaviour. A discount on drinks sold using reusables did not make any difference for reusable cup sales whereas a charge on disposable cups increased the use of reusable coffee cups by 3.4%. Author of the research Professor Wouter Poortinga said “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 than a discount.” This backs up the governments recent debate to introduce a Latte Levy. 

The research also revealed that environmental messaging in cafes increased the use of re-usable coffee cups by 2.3%, the availability of re-usable cups led to an increase of 2.5%, and the distribution of free re-usable cups led to a further increase of 4.3%. 

Eco to go Cups at University of Birmingham

University of Birmingham launched Eco to go reusable cups in September 2017 offering a free drink on purchase. Poster campaigns and point of sale units promoting clear environmental messages and a decision to charge a 10 pence levy on disposable cups have had a huge impact. This was supported with Eco days and eco messages via social media resulting in a reduction of hot drink disposables by over 30%, saving 30,000+ cups from landfill in just 3 months. 

“We chose Eco to go because the cups are good quality, made from rice husk which is agricultural waste. Introducing reusable cups has reduced our environmental impact and saved the university money.” Karen Morrey, Operations Manager, University of Birmingham  

Circular Economy

Eco to go rice husk cups are made from renewable materials which are in use for as long as possible and at end of life can be regenerated as fertiliser in soil. This supports a circular model which extracts maximum value and zero waste.

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