Should stores charge customers extra to use disposable cups?
With many municipalities now charging a small fee for plastic bags at stores to reduce their environmental damage, a study finds charging for disposable cups could work the same way.
Research from Cardiff University in the U.K. estimated that the combination of charging for disposable cups, in-store messaging about cup waste and providing reusable cups could reduce up to 300 million disposable cups per year in the U.K. An estimated 2.5 billion cups are used in the U.K. each year, contributing 25,000 tons of waste, the study found.
The study, conducted between September to December 2016, was funded by Dublin-based coffee and tea company Bewley’s.
The distribution of free reusable cups was found as the best way to encourage use of reusable cups, followed by charging for disposable cups, availability of reusable cups and in-store messaging. Using all four tactics, on average, was found to increase reusable-cup use by up to 12.5 percent.
Most paper cups present an eco-challenge in that their plastic film lining makes them hard to recycle. Further, the use of recycled paper in cups is limited due to their inability to support hot contents.
The study comes as Starbucks has fallen well short of a goal set in 2008 to serve 25 percent of all beverages in reusable cups by 2015. By 2013, reusable cup use reached only 1.8 percent despite efforts that included offering a 10 cents-per-cup discount and keeping the price for the cups low ($1).
In its most recent environment report, Starbucks wrote that it planned to further collaborate with other companies on the challenge while noting that “ultimately it will be our customers who control whether or not we achieve continued growth in the number of beverages served in reusable cups.”
Any program to reduce disposable cup use will face similar hurdles as those facing plastic bags. Legislators have seen bans on, or fees for, plastic bags as an unfair burden to lower-income consumers and on merchants.
- Curbing coffee cup usage – Cardiff University
- Recycling and Reducing Waste 2016 – Starbucks
- Cup and Materials 2013 – Starbucks
- Goals & Progress: Reusable Cups 2011 – Starbucks
- Plastic bags: Scrutiny over bans, fees heats up – Poughkeepsie Journal
- Switch disposable coffee cups for reusables, urge campaign groups – The Guardian
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see the clamor to reduce the use of disposable cups reaching the same level as plastic bags? What parallels do you see between the two efforts? How should retailers respond?