Research reveals the most effective ways to cut coffee cup waste

The UK could cut the use of disposable coffee cups by up to 300 million a year by using a combination of behaviour-changing measures, according to a new study.

Researchers at Cardiff University looked at a range of ways to encourage the use of reusable cups.

They found that a charge on disposable cups increased the use of re-usable coffee cups by 3.4% while environmental messaging in cafés 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 %.

Report author Wouter Poortinga, professor of environmental psychology, said: ‘While the increases for individual measures were modest, the greatest behavioural change was when the measures were combined.

‘Our results show that, on average, the use of reusable coffee cups could be increased by up to 12.5% 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.’

Financial incentives

At one café researchers found 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% to 17.4%.

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.

‘There is an important nuance when it comes to financial incentives,’ said Professor 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 findings of the research, which was commissioned by Bewley’s, will be submitted to the environmental audit committee’s inquiry into coffee cup waste.

Louise Whitaker, head of marketing at Bewley’s UK, said: ‘There is a huge amount of waste being sent to landfill each year and promoting reusable cups is part of the solution.

‘As a company we are committed to working with our cup providers and customers to provide a solution to the problem. The research is a really useful step forward in knowing how best to steer people towards bringing their own cups.’

Photo by quinn.anya

Austin Macauley

Austin Macauley

Editor, Environment Journal

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