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by Liam Kirkaldy
01 October 2019
Charging for disposable cups more effective at reducing use than offering discounts for reusables

Image credit: Holyrood

Charging for disposable cups more effective at reducing use than offering discounts for reusables

Adding a charge for a disposable cup is more effective at reducing consumption than offering discounts for reusable ones, according to a new study by Zero Waste Scotland.

Trials by Zero Waste Scotland found that cafes which replaced discounts for reusable cups with clear, equivalent charges for disposable cups significantly increased the proportion of customers switching to reusables for takeaway drinks.

An estimated 200 million single use coffee cups are used every year in Scotland alone.

The body carried out trials in four public sector cafes, with the proportion of consumers switching from disposable to reusable cups rising by 50 per cent on average.

While many cafes offer discounts to customers choosing reusable cups, research shows this does little to encourage customers to ditch disposables in favour of reusable cups, which account for less than two per cent of hot drink sales. 

The findings suggest that making the cost of disposable cups clear instead of hiding it within the total price of the drink will do more to reduce consumption of disposable cups.

Lead author Michael Lenaghan said: “We have shown that it isn’t necessary to charge people more for their coffee to persuade them to ditch a disposable cup in favour of a reusable one. You just need to put a clear price on the cup and let consumers decide if it is a price worth paying every time they buy a drink.

“Single use packaging has an environmental and a financial cost, but that financial cost is usually hidden from view, so consumers don’t have all the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions.

“Behavioural science has shown that people will make more effort to avoid a cost - such as a 25p charge on single use cups - than they will to obtain a gain of equal value - like a 25p reusable cup discount.”

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