When research showed that the use of disposable coffee cups could be reduced by up to 300 million a year, it was TUCO members that helped to find a way to encourage customers to use a reusable alternative, Morag Wilson.
An estimated 2.5bn disposable coffee cups are used in the UK each year which creates around 25,000 tonnes of waste. How many coffee cups are you responsible for sending to landfill through your customers? It's probably a rather terrifying figure and is the reason why coffee roaster Bewley's chose to commission research into the extent of the problem and to find a solution. How can we encourage customers to reduce their use of disposable cups?
Many people would be forgiven for thinking that their disposable cup was recyclable. But when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall reported in his TV documentary that many of the takeaway cups we use aren't fully recyclable, consumers and the industry were surprised. It just so happens that the programme was aired shortly after the 2016 TUCO Conference.
Louise Whitaker head of marketing at Bewley's saw the programme and, having spoken to TUCO members who shared her concerns, was spurred on to do something about it. Louise recruited four universities to be part of the pilot study: University of South Wales. Cardiff University, the University of Winchester, and Imperial College. They also chose to look at the B&l sector to see if office workers would have different behaviours to university staff and students, so worked with contract caterer Bartlett Mitchell as well (there was no marked difference).
The research was conducted from September to December 2016 and found that financial incentives, reusable alternatives, and clear messaging reminding customers of the environmental impact of single-use coffee cups all had a direct impact on consumer behaviour. The results were notable: a charge on disposable cups. increased the use of reusable coffee cups by 3.4%, environmental messaging in cafés increased the use of reusable coffee cups by 2.3%, the availability of re-usable cup led to an increase of 2.5%, and the distribution of free reusable cups led to a further increase of 4.3%.
The study found that the provision of free reusable alternatives combined with clear environmental messaging and a charge on disposable cups increased the use of reusable cups from 5.1% to 17.4%. Bewley's provided 200 free reusable cups for all study participants at the start of the trial and in February, Winchester gave away a further 3,00 Gum-tec reusable cups - made from recycled chewing gum collected around campus and nationwide during Recycling week. "Our plans for September is that all first years will be given a Gum-tec cup and hopefully they'll keep it and bring it to the coffee bars," says Dave Morton, catering operations manager at the University of Winchester."We think if we can get them from day one we'll get a better uptake on it. If we reach 50%, which I think we could do, that would be fantastic progress.
" The report has now been submitted to a government waste inquiry into paper cups and the research provides a framework for TUCO members and others to make their own decisions - the findings made national news and pret and Paul stores have put reward schemes in place. "at the end of the day it's down to personal choice," says Louise. "But if people keep reusable cups on their desk it does have a positive influence while the industry works to find an alternative to the existing disposable coffee cup."