Cutting back on disposable coffee cups

Researchers at Cardiff University have found that the use of disposable coffee cups could be reduced by 50 to 300 million annually in the UK by introducing financial incentives, reusable alternatives and other simple measures.

According to Cardiff University, around 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are used in the UK each year, creating approximately 25,000 tonnes of waste.

In a study that the university conducted on behalf of the coffee roaster Bewley’s between September and December 2016, university researchers found that a number of easy-to-introduce measures could result in a drastic reduction in the use of reusable coffee cups.

For instance, a charge on disposal cups led to a 3.4 per cent increase in the use of reusable coffee cups. Clear messaging reminding customers of the environmental impact of single use coffee cups increased the use of reusable cups by 2.3 per cent. The availability of reusable coffee cups led to an increase of 2.5 per cent, while the distribution of free reusable cups led to a further increase of 4.3 per cent.

The greatest impact was observed when the different measures were combined. Offering free reusable alternatives combined with clear environmental messaging and a charge on disposable cups increased the use of reusable cups from 5.1 per cent to a whopping 17.4 per cent.

“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,” said Professor Wouter Poortinga, the author of the report.

Interestingly, the researchers found that while a charge on disposable cups increased the use of reusable coffee cups, a discount on reusable coffee cups had no impact on their usage.

“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,” explained Poortinga.

Louise Whitaker, head of marketing at Bewley’s UK, called the research “a really useful step forward in knowing how best to steer people towards bringing their own cups.”

Image credit: Michael, flickr/Creative Commons

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