It is clear that businesses and institutions across the UK have a responsibility to develop strategies to make their operations sustainable in light of the climate emergency. In October 2019, staff at Winchester University, committed themselves ‘to reducing its environmental impact and embedding sustainability of the institution and in all areas of the curriculum through the Education for Sustainable Development Programme’. As part of this commitment the University pledged to ‘eliminate use of unnecessary single use plastic by December 2020’. An innovative, bold approach to tackle waste from single use coffee cups has been undertaken and has made significant inroads towards achieving this goal.
The Winchester Cup scheme offers a convenient, cashless deposit-return scheme which makes reusable take out cups available at point of sale on campus in cafes so that customers can choose to rent a cup for a £1 refundable e-deposit. A 25p levy is currently imposed on any hot or cold take-out drink in a single use cup.
FSG worked closely with University of Winchester to introduce the Winchester cup, a robust and durable product made using pioneering eco-core technology developed by Bockatech and manufactured In Belgium.
The Age of Convenience:
We live in an age of convenience and disposability. Over the last 50 years, we have conjured up hundreds of ways to improve the ease of day to day life, saving us time and effort. Online shopping, 24-hour delivery, fast food, fast fashion, take away… the list goes on.
Single use coffee cup waste is a prime example of a detrimental effect of this life of ease.
7 million single use cups with an average life of just 15 minutes are used in the UK every day which equates to around 2.5 billion a year. Half a million of these cups are littered on a daily basis and only 1% are recycled. On top of that, just to make enough cups for one day 3000 trees are felled.
Zero Waste Scotland revealed that the associated CO2 released during the production alone of one disposable cup is approximately 28g CO2.
People are becoming aware of the damage being done, and there is a sense of momentum to do something about it.
We’ve had the solutions to tackling waste for years. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. However, all too often ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse’ are ignored and it is assumed that we can rely on recycling. Unfortunately, this is one problem we cannot recycle our way out of.
Why can’t single use cups just be recycled?
While in theory it is possible to recycle these cups, breaking that process down into its component stages reveals why recycling is not a feasible option.
When it comes to disposing of these cups, consumers are rarely presented with a ‘cup only’ bin and as a result, most of the cups are placed into general waste bins and are sent for incineration or landfill. Providing designated cup bins would require a huge investment in ‘binfrastructure’, signage, and labour to empty the bins, collect and process the waste.
After the cups have been collected for recycling, they must be sorted to remove any non-cup contamination.
Winchester University searches for a solution
The relatively small campus of Winchester University, catering for just over 8,000 students and 800 staff, has 6 main outlets providing food and drink across site. A comprehensive internal audit was carried out looking at all single-use plastic used across the campus from cleaning products to food packaging…..single use hot and cold cups was an obvious starting point. Prior to 2019 effective change had already begun…..
The Latte Levy
Back in 2016 Winchester University signed up to take part in a 6 week trial led by Cardiff University looking at ways to reduce the use of single use cups. At that time Winchester students were using around 119,000 single use paper and plastic cups every year with only a very small percentage of these being recycled. Previous attempts to encourage customers to use reusables through the offer of a 25p discount for take-out drinks purchased in a Keep cup, led to an uptake of only around 2%. This rose to 15% in just 6 weeks of the trial. Comparatively this conversion rate is high when compared with the impact of what Starbucks achieved. Back in 2008 Starbucks reusable cup rate was less than 2%, they then partnered with
Hubbub in 2018 to explore the impact of a 5p levy on single-use cups, reuse rates more than doubled but still remained at only 5.8%.
The team at Winchester remained committed to their goal of eradicating single use and the trial saw the introduction of a more ambitious model. Dropping the price of all take-out drinks by 25p, introducing a 25p ‘latte levy’ on takeout drinks in single use cups instead of discounting. This was later supplemented by giving away 3,000 Gum-tec reusable cups to first year students in 2017 and each year since. Winners of the Green Gown Award in 2017 for their bold approach, this scheme changed customer behaviour and resulted in 25,000 fewer disposable cups being used. By the end of 2017, 33% of takeout drinks were sold in reusable cups with no negative impact on sales. (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/stories-44575909).
One step further
With the pledge to remove single use plastics having been made in June 2019, more was needed to scoop up those customers who had forgotten to bring their Keep Cup but were still keen not to use a paper cup. A initial trial DRS scheme was launched in November 2019 and then across campus in February 2020 with the 12oz Zero Waste Cup. A simple, yet effective offering, the DRS is a cashless transaction fully integrated in the University’s EPOS system, MCR. A customer simply buys a take-out drink coffee and pays using the MCR App on their phone, a £1 deduction is made for the cup by way of a deposit, when the customer returns the cup to a till point, the cashier credits the £1 e-voucher back onto MCR App.
This 12oz reusable cup is now the only cup size on offer and despite initial concerns about potential complaints, or lost sales, all 16 fl oz drinks have now been removed from sale, without any backlash. Sales in reusable cups were up to over 73% pre-covid.
Full integration with the MCR EPOS system facilitates:
A simple, cashless transaction which avoids any additional fees, or excessive cash refunds
Data reporting on cup usage
Targeted messaging to customers, reminding them to return the cups and reward positive behaviour.
Allows cups to be “dropped” at alternatives outlets without confusing cash reconciliation
Covid safe measures are in place and dirty cups are dropped back into a small 10 litre caddy and left to one side to be handled safely throughout the day by catering staff in PPE . They are washed on site and then left to air dry ready for reuse.
Environmental impact of the Winchester Cup
When compared to single-use paper cups a typical plastic reusable cup needs to be used around 20 times to begin to have a positive impact on carbon emissions. However, the small amount of material and energy used to create the Corretto cups means their breakeven point is only three uses.
Due to the polypropylene skin-foam-skin walls, the cups are not only lightweight but also very durable. Analysis of cups made with this revolutionary new technology, carried out by The LCA Centre in the Netherlands, showed them to be the most sustainable solution for hot and cold drinks overall. The study compared EcoCore cups to both reusable alternatives (e.g. heavy plastic, glass and ceramic) and single- use alternatives (e.g. PET, PP, PLA [a biodegradable plastic], PE -lined paper, and PLA-lined paper.
The research showed a reduction in CO2 of 45% compared to the average single-use cup, a significant reduction against all reusables after just 17 uses.
Translating this into an assessment of the impact on reduction in CO2 emissions at Winchester University, if we project forwards to 2021-2022 where single-use cups will be completely removed from circulation, the following can be seen:
Actuals Year 2019-2020 Qty CO2 emissions CO2
/365 cups* emissions
Total sales in single use coffee cups 44433 7.3 kg 888.6 kg
Total sales in reusable to go cups 37295 0.8 kg 81.7 kg
Total sales in china 13563 0.94kg 34.9 kg
Total sales 95291
Forecast Year 2021-2022 Qty CO2 emissions CO2
/365 cups* emissions
Total sales in Corretto cups 44433 0.27 kg 32.9 kg
Total sales in reusable to go cups 37295 0.8kg 81.7 kg
Total sales in china 13563 0.94kg 34.9 kg
Total sales 95291
CO2 emissions for sales of 44433 single use cups = equivalent to driving 7278 km in a car**
> further in distance than London to Mumbai
CO2 emissions for sales of 44433 Corretto cups = equivalent to driving 269 kilometers**
= same distance as driving from London to Sheffield
* Based on Corretto Life Cycle Analysis, Dr N J Dee (PhD, Contab) – 2018- 425ml Corretto Cup, QSR use, virgin plastic
** The average carbon dioxide emissions of cars registered for the first time in the second quarter of 2015 (April to June) was 122.1 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.
Not only have there been significant environmental benefits, reduction in expenditure on single-use Is also notable:
Based on sales
44433 single use cups @ £0.10 each = £4443.30
Corretto cups break even in cost as student deposit covers purchase cost
Cost for dishwashing is approx. 1 pence per cup - £444.33
This doesn’t take in to consideration the single use cup tax.
Deposit– return means that only very few cups are lost from the system. Those that are damaged are returned so they can be recycled. The combination of deposit– return, Keep Cups and closed -loop recycling considerably reduces the possibility of littering.
The Winchester Cup scheme has been successful thanks to the persistence of the catering department and the support and commitment they’ve received from a forward-looking senior management team at the University. Willing to take risks and dare to be different, with careful adaptations to meet consumer demand, Winchester now have an effective multi-faceted system in place to meet their pledge to ‘eliminate use of unnecessary single use plastic’.
By the start of Semester 1 in September 2021 all existing stocks of single use coffee cups will have been exhausted from campus cafes and reusable food containers will be on offer for take-out meals using a similar DRS model.