31 Mar 2017

Coffee cup charge could cut use by 300 million, UK study suggests

10:55 am on 31 March 2017

Charging coffee drinkers for their disposable cups could cut their use by 300 million a year in the UK, according to new research.

coffee cup rubbish

2.5 billion disposable cups are used annually in the UK. Photo: 123RF

Academics at Cardiff University tested a series of measures to tackle coffee cup waste and encourage the use of reusable cups.

Report author Professor Wouter Poortinga said some 2.5 billion disposable cups were used annually.

The findings would be submitted to a UK government waste inquiry.

Prof Poortinga found the provision of free reusable alternatives, combined with environmental messaging and a charge on disposable cups, increased the use of reusable cups in one cafe from 5.1 percent to 17.4 percent.

"Our results show that, on average, the use of reusable coffee cups could be increased by up to 12.5 percent with a combination of measures," Prof Poortinga said.

"With this in mind, the UK's usage of an estimated 2.5b disposable coffee cups each year could be cut by up to 300 million coffee cups."

Charge more effective than discount

The most notable finding was 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.

takeaway coffee cup disposable

It might be convenient, but at what cost? Photo: 123RF

Prof Poortinga said: "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."

Cafes at Cardiff University, University of South Wales, University of Winchester and Imperial College London as well as other businesses took part in the study of consumer behaviour, which was commissioned by coffee and tea firm Bewley's.

Head of marketing Louise Whitaker said: "There is a huge amount of waste being sent to landfill each year and promoting reusable cups is part of the solution."

Some multi-national coffee shop chains such as Costa and Starbucks previously told the BBC they were trying to tackle the issue.