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  • Writer's pictureSarah Marshall

Businesses: How to reduce single-use plastic

Updated: May 16, 2023

Under the pandemic we have seen a rise in takeaway packaging as people, unable to sit down in a café or restaurant have opted for a meal or drink on the go instead. In February 2021 Planet Aware hosted a talk in which we looked at the options to tackle the impact of takeaway packaging - from the rise in litter to marine pollution caused by overflowing bins to the overall damage that our consumption is doing to the planet. The conclusion? We need to get back to reusables. Nowhere more so than for takeaway drinks.

The problem is that under Covid-19 single use has become (wrongly in many cases) synonymous with safety. Early on coffee chains stopped accepting customers' own refillable cups and containers on the incorrect grounds that they would spread Covid-19. Some of these chains backtracked a few months later but by then the damage had been done.

Through our conversations with businesses we found that many are still happy to offer to refill a customer's reusable coffee cup - but they did not shout about it. Our advice? Be proud and make offering to refill an active part of your offer. You could even go down the route that the Boston Tea Party went (and have continued right through the pandemic) and just stop selling hot drinks in single use cups all together. Instead, customers bring their own or borrow a reusable that they later return.

You might not be ready for such a giant leap. But we have three simple steps you can take:

  1. Actively offer to refill customers' (squeaky clean) coffee cups

  2. Add a 10 pence levy to your single use cups and explain clearly to customers why

  3. Tell every customer to keep their disposable cup with them until they find a place to dispose of it safely

Actively offer to refill

It is not enough just to refill a coffee cup when a customer tentatively asks. Your business needs to actively promote refilling. Tell as many customers as you can that you accept reusable cups. Communication is everything - remember how many times you were asked if you needed a plastic bag when the plastic bag tax was introduced?

  • Tell your customers on social media that you refill - explain why and how you are keeping them safe

  • Put up a sign where customers are queuing - telling them why and how you are keeping them safe

  • Tell your customers when they buy from you - and that they can cut the cost of the coffee

  • Offer a simple takeaway mug to borrow

  • Tot up how many cups you have saved by offering refills - somewhere where customers can see it.

Check out the contactless coffee video from City to Sea - or find your own way of being contactless - such as by asking customers to put their refillable container in a large mug that is carried to the coffee machine. Don't make the coffee in a single-use cup though.....

Slap on a levy on single use cups

People react more to a levy in a single use cup than to a discount for bringing their own. And people whose behaviour you want to change will not notice or care that there is a discount - but they will notice that they are being charged extra - and will think about doing something about it. A 10 pence levy on a single-use cup is more effective than a 25 pence discount for someone who brings in a reusable cup.

Communication is absolutely critical - you can have the best scheme in the world but that is not good if non-one knows about it. If we want to tackle the takeaway challenge - litter, resource use and plastic problems we have to take every opportunity to share this message with the customer.

Biodegradable packaging is not an option

Using biodegradable packaging for your takeaways may avoid using oil-based plastics in your serveware. But it does not prevent littering and your takeaway packaging will not be recycled OR composted as there is currently no nationwide system for collecting and managing compostable packaging. It may well cost your business more and if the compostable packaging is not made out of a waste product is certainly will not help reduce the wasteful use of our planet's resources. Read the guide on biodegradable and compostable packaging produced by UCL's Plastic Waste Hub.

Tell people to bin their single-use packaging responsibly

More takeaways means more rubbish. All over the Solent we have seen bins that are overflowing. Remind your customers to keep their single use cups and packaging with them until they can dispose of them in a bin that has room. Leaving rubbish next to or on top of a bin or trying to squeeze it into an already full bin is littering plain and simple. And that litter ends up in our coastal water - we know because we pick it up frequently enough. This message is particularly important on busy days, in the afternoons when business has been brisk - and you know that the bins in your area will be filling up. Share this message with each and every customer:

"Please hold on to your cup until you find a litter bin that has space - or bin your cup at home. We will be happy to accept your clean reusable cup next time you visit..."


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