- A study conducted by Cardiff University, commissioned by Irish coffee company Bewley's, found that a combination of strategies involving fees could cut down on up to 300 million wasted cups in the U.K. every year, as reported by Resource.
- The four-month study tested a variety of strategies at 12 business and academic sites with the goal of encouraging people to take reusable cups. The distribution of free reusable cups increased their use by 4.3% and a charge on disposable cups increased use by 3.4%. Making the cups available, but not distributing them, increased use by 2.5% and basic environmental signage increased use by 2.3%.
- Researchers also noted that offering a discount for bringing reusable cups had minimal effect. The most successful approach employed a combination of all of the above methods, leading to a 12.5% increase in reusable cup use.
Coffee cup waste has become a high profile issue in the U.K., where anywhere from 2.5 to 3 billion of them are tossed every year with a diversion rate less than 1%. Multiple U.K. coffee companies have begun testing out more recyclable cup designs and in-store collection programs as a result. Following these efforts, pilots have also been developed to collect the material in special coffee cup-shaped bins on city streets. A larger scale version of this collection effort was recently launched in London's business financial district with the goal of diverting 5 million cups per year.
Like any material, it is possible to recycle coffee cups when they're collected separately from other waste and a variety of solutions have been developed to address their multi-layer composition. Yet similar to the ongoing debate over plastic bags and polystyrene foam containers some critics say the ability to recycle a material is beside the point. They say that if consumption can be reduced in the first place, as England saw with the introduction of its five-pence bag fee last year, then complex recycling solutions may be less relevant. Skeptics of bag fees point to the environmental effects of potential reusable bag waste, but that argument hasn't been used as often when it comes to reusable cups.
Though even in the best-case scenario of this U.K. study the percentage of people drinking from reusable cups at one location was 17.4%. This indicates that while consumption of disposable cups could be reduced it will not be eliminated and recycling options will still have a place. As this issue begins to gain more attention in the U.S., through shareholder advocacy and environmental activism, there may be opportunities for the recycling industry to get ahead of it by developing solutions.