With World Environment Day having taken place on 5th June, it’s appropriate that one coffee chain is making a difference. Since 1st June, Boston Tea Party became the first coffee chain in England to ban disposable cups, and will only sell hot drinks in reusable ones. This is not just a small local coffee shop, with the group having more than a respectable 21 branches around England. It has a big enough influence to make a substantial difference and cause other major operators to pick up their heads and take notice. Yet are Boston Tea Group alone in making a change to the humble coffee cup for the greater good?
Simply put, no. Other major coffee selling chains have made positive moves, albeit it to a lesser extent. Costa Coffee has committed to recycling as many cups as it sells by 2020 and offers customers a 25p discount on coffee if customers bring their own reusable cup. In a similar move, Pret A Manger and Paul offer a 50p and 25p discount respectively, on coffee and other hot beverages, if customers bring their own reusable cups. In addition, MPs have even floated the idea of a 25p ‘latte levy’ to incentivise the use of reusable cups.
All of this positive environmental change sounds fantastic, but to play devil’s advocate, The Beaver wants to bring up a potential issue: takeaway coffee. Think of a busy train station, where a person wants to pick up a coffee and get on with their day. Now, if they have no option but to use a reusable cup, they are then in the uncomfortable situation of having to carry around a dirty cup for the whole day or until they can find a sink to wash it in. If people are willing to get soaked in the rain because they don’t want to lug an umbrella around town, then what makes a reusable cup so essential? As a result, it begs the question of how this will affect total sales for operators that implement this.
Starbucks seems to have the answer. In a trial in which the global brand placed a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups in select London branches, it has led to over 150% increase in reusable cup use so far, according to the company. It appears that customers are embracing the concept, they just needed a little push in the right direction. Furthermore, The Beaver has been discussing and brainstorming with a few operators about potential solutions to the disposable coffee cup issue, and some interesting solutions were thrown about – none more so than a ‘Boris Bike’-like concept… but for coffee cups. Before you think we are crazy, hear me out. To combat the takeaway coffee issue, operators could provide reusable cups to customers who could then drink the coffee on the go, and whenever they are done, drop the dirty cup at one of the operator’s other branches (or even a competitor who is also part of the scheme) where it could be washed and reused. A deposit system could stop people stealing them.
We understand that as an industry we create a lot of waste, and while there have been positive changes in other products such as straws, is individual brands coming up with their own solutions, independent of each other and the customer, the real solution? These are big challenges and they surely need big solutions. Shouldn’t we all try and work together to make real change rather than being individuals using sustainability as a marketing ploy? Until this happens, the use of reusable coffee cups is a start.