Coffee shop customers dislike using reusable cups that would help reduce plastic waste as they believe they are ‘inconvenient’

Research news

Thursday 23 November 2017

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Too many coffee shop customers are put off using recyclable cups because they feel it reduces the convenience of having takeaway coffee, a Coventry University industry expert says.

It means a change in people’s attitudes and behaviour, as well as actions by government and businesses, will be key to increasing the use of reusable coffee cups and reducing plastic waste, believes Dr Jennifer Ferreira.

She says that while a tax on the use of throwaway plastic cups may help instigate this change, it might not be as quick in making a difference as the 5p plastic bag charge was, because some people believe the recyclable cups are not as convenient as takeaway ones.

Many customers don’t like to carry around a dirty cup; they feel they take up too much space in their bags; or they are confused over how much they will be charged for their use or whether coffee shops will refill their cup if it’s not clean enough, adds Dr Ferreira, who has carried out several pieces of research into the coffee shop industry.

It is estimated that seven million disposable coffee cups are thrown away each day in the UK, with most ending up in landfill sites because of difficulties in recycling them.

The BBC’s Blue Planet II series has also highlighted the impact that plastic has had on oceans and marine wildlife.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in yesterday’s budget that he and Environment Secretary Michael Gove would investigate how the tax system and charges on single-use plastic items could reduce waste.

Last year Dr Ferreira submitted evidence based on her own research findings to the government’s Environmental Audit Committee on plastic bottle and coffee cup waste.

Her next research project will explore further how the coffee shop industry in the UK and Germany has already persuaded people to use reusable cups and what could be done to encourage their use more in the future. It will also look at the barriers to the cups’ use as well.

Dr Ferreira, a senior research assistant at Coventry University’s Centre for Business in Society, said:

“Many people feel it’s less convenient to carry a reusable cup than to buy a plastic cup and throw it away. It’s this attitude that has to change.


Reusable cups do not seem to have taken on the popularity as seen with reusable carrier bags partly because the cups need to be washed, and some consumers don’t want to have a used coffee cup in their bag for the rest of the day. Government policy could be an important spark for a behaviour change, but in order for a significant reduction to take place there needs to be collective consumer action too. 


The change in people’s behaviour needed has to go beyond when people grab their coffee on the go in town. A lot of disposable cups are thrown away from offices, and events where tea and coffee are served at meetings and conferences. If people are in the habit of drinking tea and coffee out of the home, then they should be encouraged to carry a reusable cup more regularly.


We still don’t know how to get people to make this change. Incentives for reusable cups have been in place for quite some time with limited success in some places, it may be that a tax on plastic cups would make coffee expensive enough to make people think.


Part of what I will look at in my new project is how to get people to change their behaviour - is there something coffee shops can do, or are they already doing everything they can?”


For further press information, please contact Alison Martin, press officer, Coventry University, on 02477659752 or email