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Coffee Cup Conundrum

UK consumers throw away about 2.5 billion coffee cups every year, but less than 1% are recycled because most facilities cannot handle their plastic film lining. It has long been recognised that reusable takeaway cups are better for the environment than single-use cups, even when they are recycled. However, the struggle has been to encourage adoption of reusable cups among customers. Matt Graywood, Chief Operating Officer, Preoday, argues that integrating loyalty technology and mobile pre-ordering could be the catalyst consumers need to start using reusable cups.

Estimates of the number of paper and plastic throwaway cups used each year worldwide range from tens of billions to more than one hundred billion. Starbucks’ customers alone are known to consume approximately 4 billion cups a year globally.

Uphill battle

In an attempt to solve the problem of coffee-cup waste mountains, operators globally have been making substantial efforts to encourage take-up of reusable cups by their customers. In 2013, Starbucks launched a reusable cup priced at $1 in the US and Canada and £1 in the UK, and the chain offers customers 10 cents and 25p respectively off certain drinks when served in a reusable cup. Costa also gives customers a 25p discount on drinks in reusable cups and they will shortly launch two new multipurpose reusable cups.

Despite these efforts, persuading customers to use reusable cups has been difficult and the sector has struggled to increase re-use rates much above 1.5%, even after many years of trying. In 2011, Starbucks announced a global goal to serve 5% of beverages made in company- owned stores in reusable cups by 2015, but the goal was not achieved and only 1.6% were served in them. Changing customer behaviour away from single-cup use has proven hard, whether it is the convenience of not having to carry a cup into the store, or not having to wash it after every use.

Germany leads the way

In the German cities of Berlin, Freiburg and Hamburg, initiatives are being put in place to drive coffee cup re-use. Coffee shops in Hamburg have started a reusable cup scheme called Refill It!. The cup can be obtained with a €1.50 deposit and customers have the option of keeping the cup and having it refilled at participating coffee shops, or returning it and receiving their money back. Once returned, the café will wash the reusable cup and offer it to another customer.

Others follow

Coffee cups

There are examples outside of Germany too. A few US universities have started re-use schemes and, in April this year, the City of London’s Square Mile Challenge was launched, organising more than 100 recycling points and calling everyone in the City of London to collect and recycle half a million coffee cups in the first month, to reach a total of 5 million by the end of the year.

Music festivals have also taken steps to encourage re-use. Last year, the Glastonbury Festival launched a sustainable, recycled stainless steel pint cup for use at its event. The result was over 200,000 cups in circulation across the site, with customers paying a £5 deposit when they bought their first pint.

Mobile ordering and loyalty technology

Ordering on mobile phone

The good news is that mobile ordering and loyalty technology can help change customer behaviour and increase reusable cup uptake.

For example, Preoday’s pre-ordering solution enables operators to:

  • Reward mobile pay customers who bring back their reusable cups with a discounted drink or loyalty points
  • Drive increased reusable cup purchases by customers
  • Inform customers of the benefits of using reusable cups
  • Track reusable cup usage with data analytics This is on top of the established benefits of Preoday’s mobile ordering and loyalty platform, which include:
  • 25-40% higher average transaction values for mobile and online versus in-store transactions 
  • Queues that move two to three times faster
  • The capability to offer merchandise purchases, vouchers and discounts
  • Options to integrate with different EpoS systems, payment processors and third party loyalty apps.

Preoday is also able to offer assistance to clients on marketing mobile ordering to ensure strong uptake, and advise on any required operational changes.

Of course, mobile ordering and loyalty is only part of the solution. In order to be successful, operators also need to offer financial or other incentives and, of course, reusable cups. Customers are not going to change their engrained daily habits unless they are constantly reminded that re-use is not only an option, but one that brings with it both financial and environmental benefits.

When mobile ordering and loyalty is embedded in food and beverage sales strategies, we believe that rapid growth in reusable cup adoption will be achievable.

For further information, visit

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