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'Stick not carrot' best for cutting coffee cup waste

New research suggests that discounts offered for reusable cups in coffee shops have little effect on reuse, while charging and stronger messaging could significantly boost it.

Academics at Cardiff University, on behalf of beverage company Bewley’s, looked at ways of cutting the estimated 2.5 billion coffee cups disposed of in the UK, the vast bulk of which are not recycled.

Their study found that a charge on disposable cups increased reuse by 3.4 percentage points, messaging in cafes added a further 2.3 points, the availability of reusable cups added 2.5 points and the free distribution of such cups led to a further increase of 4.3 points.

Combining the positive alternatives increased the proportion of reusable cups used in one cafe from 5.1% to 17.4%.

Overall results show that the UK’s annual mountain of 2.5 billion disposable cups could be cut by up to 300 million.

Report author, Wouter Poortinga, professor of environmental psychology at Cardiff University’s Welsh School of Architecture and School of Psychology, said: “While the increases for individual measures were modest, the greatest behavioural change was when the measures were combined.”

But he added that a notable finding was discounting on reusable coffee cups had no impact.

“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,” he said.

Louise Whitaker, head of marketing at Bewley’s UK, said: “Companies have a responsibility to play their part in solving the coffee cup waste problem. We are committed to working with our cup providers and customers to provide a solution. The research is a useful step forward in knowing how best to steer people towards bringing their own cups.”

The findings of the research will be submitted to the Government’s inquiry into coffee cup and plastic bottle waste.

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