When the government announced the idea of a ‘latte levy’, we did some research and discovered that the University Of Winchester had pioneered a similar idea. This is an interview we did with Liz Harris, environmental projects assistant at the university.
Jamie: How did this come about?
Liz: It goes back to the summer of 2016, we were looking at how we could reduce our dependency on disposable coffee cups. In the academic year 2015-16, we used 191,000 disposable cups at the university. We have very good data; our catering team tracked the sales of drinks at the catering outlets on campus, so we knew we were using this number of cups, and we wanted to do something about that.
Up until that point, we offered a 25p discount on drinks that were purchased in a re-usable cup, which is quite a common incentive at a number of outlets. But it wasn’t having a very big effect: sales of drinks in re-usable cups were only at 3%. So, in November 2016, the environment team (including myself) and the catering team decided to flip the pricing structure on sales of drinks and reduced the sale price of every drink sold at our outlets by 25p, and re-introduced the 25p as a kind of tax or surcharge if the purchaser did not use a re-usable cup. As a result, a sort of change in the psychology, has drastically changed people’s behaviour and the way in which they buy drinks.
As of 31st December 2017, with a full year’s date, we now know that we have saved 40,000 disposable cups from being used. Because they don’t want to pay that 25p “tax”, people bring their own cups. Sales of drinks on average, across the catering outlets, being purchased in re-usable cups are now at 33%.
Jamie: When you say “re-usable mugs”, what exactly do you mean?
Liz: We accept any mug that people want to bring with them. Prior to November 2016, the catering team did offer a keep-cup to buy at the till, then we started giving those away free. Then we introduced a new branded re-usable cup. We had road-tested a few, looking for something that was environmentally friendly etc, and eventually selected a mug made by a company called Gumdrop, the Gumtec Americano mug.
The reason we liked it so much was because it’s partly made from recycled chewing gum! We worked with them to create a branded mug. We have given away over 5,500 of these now, over the last year, to every member of staff and every student who wants one. What’s nice about the Gumtec mug is that we collect old chewing gum on campus, and it goes away and gets recycled and made, in part, into these mugs.
The students seem to really like being part of this closed-loop recycling story. It captures their imagination and keeps it in people’s minds.
Jamie: It sounds like it really captures that recycling mentality, which is what the whole thing is about
Liz: Absolutely, and we’re trying to look at what we can do elsewhere, now that we’ve got people’s attention. We have a recycling rate at the university of 64%, which is pretty good, but we know we can do more.
Jamie: Do you think the methods you have used would help on a national scale?
Liz: I do. The early figures, up until January 2016, when we had only been running the original 25p surcharge for a couple of months, were sent to Cardiff University and featured in a report produced by them for the Environmental Audit Committee’s enquiry into packaging and disposable coffee cups. Out of the seven institutions doing different interventions, we had the biggest impact, so our findings went to government and the report on a disposable cup levy was published.
It was suggested that, if the UK introduced this surcharge, it could save up to 300 million cups a year. If all outlets had 33% of sales in re-usable cups, they would be saving somewhere in the region of 825 million cups a year. So there seems to be some real-world significance to our project.