Coffee cups

A new report from Cardiff University tells us that we’d have to be blithering idiots to insist that people stop using disposable coffee cups.

The environmental cost to society of disposable coffee cups is thus £3 million a year. The benefits to the population are north of £625 million a year. The method we’ve used to get here is identical to the one used to show that we really must do something about climate change.

Which we should – just as we shouldn’t about coffee cups. Because the analysis shows that we’d give up at least £625 million of consumer utility to gain £3 million in environmental savings. Why would we want to make ourselves £622 million poorer?

23 thoughts on “Coffee cups”

  1. Disposable coffee cups? Why should I be throwing away decent crockery? Just rinse it under the tap.

    Tho’, if it’s had coffee in it I can well understand disposing of it with extreme prejudice.

  2. In one cafe, customers’ usage of reusable cups soared from 5.1% to 17.4% when all the measures were in place.

    Presumably they achieved that by losing 70% of their customers.

  3. Timmy, I think your posts are usually pretty clued up, but sh*t like “we really must do something about climate change” demonstrates you can’t always be trusted.
    You being an economics kinda guy, do a cost benefit analysis on the 2008 Climate Change act.
    This is my back of the envelope take on it (using the IPCC data / formula for tonnes of CO2 to degrees C increase) and a Government Ministers reply to a question in the H of C.
    Cost = approx. £750Billion.
    Reduction in global temperature by 2050 = 0.0003 degree C.

  4. The measures tried were

    25p charge on disposable cups
    Signs showing landfill of disposable cups
    Discount for using reusable cup
    Free issue of disposable cup

    ‘In one cafe, customers’ usage of reusable cups soared from 5.1% to 17.4% when all the measures were in place’

    So the cafe where they put up signs, charged 25p for disposables, issued free reusables and also gave a discount for using that reusable had the biggest change.

    The biggest surprise is that people still insisted on paying 25p+ more for a coffee in a disposable cup than just use the free reusable one once.

  5. Of course, you will be denied entry to public places if you carry a china coffee mug around with you, as they can be smashed and the sharp edges used as a weapon. So save the planet by carrying a non-disposable coffee cup but you may get arrested for carrying an offensive weapon.

    Absurd, of course, but less absurd than if I wrote that even ten years ago.

  6. Why would you want to wander around with a coffee cup? (or, more civilised, a tea cup). Just take it back to the kitchen after using it, give it a rinse, and it’s ready for the next cuppa.

  7. I sneeze in threes

    Are they talking about people who sit in but use paper cups? If not, how can you use a re-usable cup for a takeaway, will they let you wander out the door with your nice branded mug, or are you expected to bring one in?

    I can’t believe they would serve you a drink in a cup you bring in yourself, they don’t even let you refill a pint glass in a pub anymore.

    More re-usable cups means more costs to clean them, more space for storage, machinery and staff costs. That vast majority of takeaway coffee shops are high volume low square foot, e.g. train stations, there is no way they can change.

  8. “Why would you want to wander around with a coffee cup? (or, more civilised, a tea cup). Just take it back to the kitchen after using it, give it a rinse, and it’s ready for the next cuppa.”

    What if your kitchen is thirty miles away?

  9. Let us generously assume that the researchers (who are not the same as the people who demanded the research) are sane.
    Then the reusable cups/beakers are washable plastic, not china, for “drink-in” customers – the cost of all the missing china mugs would be unacceptable in a competitive business like coffee bars.
    The net environmental cost of using biodegradable paper cups instead of non-biodegradable plastic cups is not very big.
    I wonder whether the people who asked for the research thought that the reusable cups were biodegradable and the non-reusable ones were not, rather than the other way round?

  10. Rob and ISi3 you have obviously never been to Vancouver if you are that astonished that people might carry reusable coffee cups around with you. Some shops will give you a small discount and even rinse it out for you if you hand them your reusable coffee cup

  11. BniC,

    Do the good people of Vancouver do so out of the goodness of their hearts, or because their government forces their hand?

  12. Andrew M,

    The people of Vancouver are mainly yuppies supported in part by their parents (or who got lucky) and mainland Chinese “refugees”. The former – because of the former, and the latter don’t really drink coffee.


    Some people seem to like the mass-produced but barista-served coffee available in the chain shops. Costa and Starbucks sell flasks.

  13. Rinsing out coffee cups?
    Yeah, OK. I can get away with this because I drink nothing but Colombian espresso (albeit from 1/2 litre, double handled cups purloined from Costa. I suffer from a permanent caffeine deficit. Rare but very pleasant medical condition which, by all rights, should entitle me to disabled benefits)
    But most of these coffee shop customers are drinking a slightly coffee flavoured children’s milk drink. (some intentionally containing no caffeine whatsoever. The horror!) The residue from that, dried on the cup, sticks like paint. It is paint. Casein paint. That stuff defies two cycles of the dishwasher. It laughs at rinsing.

  14. I think it is also perfectly reasonable that people should carry around a dinner plate to eat their lunch on. Also a glass because plastic water bottles are evil.

  15. Back in my bartending days we were’ allowed to refill glasses because of elfandsafety.. presumably in case someone used an old glass to trick us into coating the pipes in anthrax. I can’t see it being any different here. Are the cafe’s going to wash all our reusable cups for us first?

    People will carry stuff around if it’s useful. In Oz loads of people (me included) carry a water bottle around in. But not coffee cups because, even though we drink a lot of coffee, it’s completely fucking different.

  16. Andrew M Vancouver is where greenpeace was born and the home of lullemon so I leave you to draw your own conclusions as the the motives.

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