Charging coffee lovers for a disposable cup could cut their use by up to 300 million a year, new UK research suggests.

An estimated 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are used in the UK each year, creating approximately 25,000 tonnes of waste.

Academics at Cardiff University tested a series of measures to encourage the use of re-usable cups.

The research found that financial incentives, re-usable alternatives, and clear messaging reminding customers of the environmental impact of single use coffee cups all had a direct impact on consumer behaviour.


Charging for disposable cups increased the use of re-usable coffee cups by 3.4 per cent and environmental messages in coffee shops and cafes saw a rise of 2.3 per cent.

There was another 2.5 per cent hike with the availability of re-usable cups, while the distribution of free re-usable cups led to a further boost of 4.3 per cent.

The study found the provision of free re-usable alternatives combined with clear environmental messaging and a charge on disposable cups increased the use of re- usable cups in one cafe from just over 5 per cent to more than 17 per cent.

Report author Professor Wouter Poortinga said while the increases for individual measures were modest, the greatest behavioural change occurred when the measures were combined.

"Our results show that, on average, the use of reusable coffee cups could be increased by up to 12.5 per cent with a combination of measures.

"With this in mind, the UK's usage of an estimated 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups each year could be cut by up to 300 million coffee cups."

He said the most notable finding was that, while a charge on disposable cups increased the use of re-usable coffee cups, a discount on re-usable coffee cups had no impact on their usage.

"There is an important nuance when it comes to financial incentives," he said.

"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."