The UK could make a sizeable dent in its waste coffee cup mountain through a combination of a new levy on disposable cups and more effective promotion of re-usable cups.
That is the conclusion of a new report from Cardiff University commissioned by coffee roaster Bewley’s, which estimates between 50 million and 300 million cups a year could be diverted from waste streams.
Research carried out between September and December last year tested a range of measures designed to encourage consumers to switch to re-usable coffee cups.
The study came in the wake of a high profile media campaign, which highlighted how the UK throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups a year, only a tiny fraction of which are recycled.
The study found that a charge on disposable cups increased the use of re-usable coffee cups by 3.4 per cent, environmental messaging in cafes increased the use of re-usable coffee cups by 2.3 per cent, and the availability of re-usable cups led to an increase of 2.5 per cent. However, it was distribution of free re-usable cups which led to the greatest increase of 4.3 per cent.
Report author, Professor Wouter Poortinga of the Welsh School of Architecture, said that combining these measures further amplified their impact. The study 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 from 5.1 per cent to 17.4 per cent.
“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,” he said. “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.”
The study also revealed how while a charge on disposable cups increased the use of re-usable coffee cups, a discount on re-usable coffee cups had no impact.
“There is an important nuance when it comes to financial incentives,” said Poortinga. “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.”
The study is part of a push across the coffee industry to curb the impact of disposable cups with a number of high profile chains working on a series of trials to boost cup recycling rates and develop new materials that can be more easily recycled.
Louise Whitaker, head of marketing at food services firm Bewley’s UK, said promoting reusable cups more widely was “part of the solution” to the problem of cups ending up in landfill.
However, the government recently rejected calls for a charge on disposable cups similar to the plastic bag levy.