4 ways to promote reusable coffee cups

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A new study identifies strategies that could reduce the use of disposable coffee cups.

Researchers at Cardiff University tested a range of measures to encourage the use of reusable coffee cups on behalf of the foodservice coffee company Bewley’s. They found that financial incentives, re-usable alternatives, and clear messages reminding customers of the environmental impact of single-use coffee cups all had a direct impact on consumer behavior.

The study finds that:

  • a charge on disposable cups increased the use of reusable coffee cups by 3.4 percent;
  • environmental messages in cafes increased the use of reusable coffee cups by 2.3 percent;
  • the availability of reusable cups led to an increase of 2.5 percent;
  • and the distribution of free reusable cups led to a further increase of 4.3 percent.

“While the increases for individual measures were modest, the greatest behavioural change was when the measures were combined,” says study author Wouter Poortinga, a professor at the Welsh School of Architecture.

The study found that 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 percent to 17.4 percent.

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“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. 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,” Poortinga continues.

The most notable finding was that although changing for disposable cups increased the use of reusable coffee cups, a discount on reusable coffee cups had no impact on their usage.

“There is an important nuance when it comes to financial incentives…” says Poortinga. “People are far more sensitive to losses than to gains when making decisions—so if we really want to change a customer’s behavior then a charge on a disposable cup is more likely to be effective.”

Source: Cardiff University