Sunday, 5 November 2017

Ending the use of disposable drinks cups

In rural France, where I live, you simply do not see people drinking on the run. A drink, such as coffee, is either drunk at home or whilst sitting in a bar or cafĂ© and it is drunk from a china cup.  However I am just back from Ireland and it was rather a shock to see so many people wandering around with drinks in disposable cups.  Even the local supermarket had a coffee vending machine and when we crossed on Irish Ferries, the coffee in the canteen was only sold in disposable cups.  

Tray of used disposable cups heading to landfill

Many people believe that disposable drinks cups can be easily recycled when, in fact, because they are lined with plastic this is not true.  And anyway, with most cups used "on the run" the vast majority just end up in general waste bins.  It is estimated only 1 in 400 cups in the UK actually gets recycled.  Furthermore the cardboard the cups are made from is "new" board and almost no recycled fibre is used amidst health concerns for the user.

In the UK 2.5 BILLION disposable cups are thrown away every year.  That is 7 million every day or just over 80 cups EVERY SECOND.

A generation ago disposable cups were as good as not seen but in that one generation we have moved from zero to 80 cups a second thrown away.  This is simply NOT sustainable.  We have to find a solution.

In an ideal world we could return to a time when drinking on the run simply did not happen.  Actually it did happen if you count taking a flask and of course these would have been used time and time again.  But today making a flask at home is seen as too time consuming for many people and they will happily pay for the convenience of a drink in a disposable cup.   Convenience is King and the planet is suffering because of it.

Ways to stop the use of disposable cups

  • People need to be aware of how much waste these caps are producing and how much they are adding to this problem.  This needs to be at the point of sale and those selling drinks need to take responsibility for the waste they are creating ... in much the same way as cigarette packets bear health warnings, cups need to bear waste warnings.
  • Incentives need to be in place to encourage people to use reusable cups - the cups need to be cheap enough to be affordable but not so cheap as to themselves become throw away as they hold no value to the consumer.  And they need to be available in drinks shops etc so the customer has an option to buy one at the point they buy their drink.
  • When the 5p tax on plastic bags were levied in the UK, there was a massive reduction in their use - it would seem a logical step to apply a similar tax on disposable cups.
  • Consumers in some chains are offered a price reduction if they bring their own cup ... but this is not widely known about and needs to be publicised far more at the point of sale. 

Research by Cardiff University in 2017 on the effectiveness of various methods to discourage disposable cups whilst encouraging reusable cups found that although the figures were not huge, the greatest reduction in the use of disposable cups was seen when all these methods were combined.   However the study did conclude that:

“People are far more sensitive to losses than to gains when making decisions – so if we really want to change a customer’s behaviour then a charge on a disposable cup is more likely to be effective”.  Professor Wouter Poortinga *
* Source - Curbing coffee cup usage - 30 March 2017. Cardiff University

Bringing your own cup needs to be normalised in the same way as taking a reusable bag shopping has become.   On our return  ferry journey from Ireland we packed a couple of china cups and used those instead of the disposable cups. The lady on the till looked a little surprised so I suspect this may have been the first time she had seen anyone do this.  But maybe, just maybe, we could start a trend. 

Sign the Petition - Introduce a 5p Charge on Disposable Coffee Cups

If you believe we need to drastically reduce our use of disposable cups and you want to be a part of the movement that sees the end of their use please consider signing this petition - Introduce a 5p Charge on Disposable Coffee Cups

We have probably all been guilty, at one time or other, of adding to the problem that is 80 cups thrown away every second.  But this has to change.  And with OUR help it can change.  So ditch the disposable, sign the petition and go reusable.  Together let's make reusable the new normal.

Stop using disposable cups and take a reusable one instead

A Green and Rosie Life


  1. I understand and agree. It drives me crazy to see all the disposable cups and plastic water bottles. Great post!

  2. Great points. I think the 5p cup charge would make all the difference to helping people remember their reusable coffee cup. I don't often get coffee out but on using Cafe Nero recently with my Keep Cup, I discovered that you get an extra stamp on your loyalty card for using your own cup. This was not promoted in the shop anywhere I could see. This wouldn't make a difference to me but for some people it would give them the extra incentive they need.

  3. I have a reusable cup that I take out with me. You've just got to get into the habit of remembering to take it with you.
    I've just signed the petition #GoingGreenLinky

  4. Thanks for sharing this - I find it fascinating to see how things are done around the world. I live in rural England and it's the same for me as it is for you - you just don't see people using disposable cups. We have a small village bakery that sells coffee in 'real' cups and patrons take the time to sit and converse. You see some of the students walking to school with reusable coffee cups. In most of the larger chain coffee shops in towns and cities here you can get money off for using your own cup - it's a great way to incentivise a zero waste lifestyle. #GoingGreenLinky

  5. Adding a charge to disposable cups would be fantastic but I don't think it would make much difference. Coffee is over priced anyway and 5p doesn't seem much. I think letting people know about the price reduction on taking your own cup should be publicised more that could make more of a difference.
    I live in a small town and the only time I see disposable cups is on market day when there is a burger van selling tea and coffee.