Ground-breaking new report is serving up solutions for returnable cups to tackle plastic pollution

City to Sea, a leading environmental organisation, and Circular&Co., the pioneers of circular design, have recently launched a comprehensive new guide, “The future is returnable. Taking a circular approach to hot drinks” outlining a blueprint for establishing a successful returnable cup scheme. 

The launch of the ambitious partnership comes following an explosion of innovation in the UK when it comes to returnable systems. Drawing on the expertise of over 20 industry experts, leading reuse brands, and businesses, City to Sea and Circular&Co. have created the guide to provide invaluable insights and practical advice for organisations looking to implement returnable cup schemes at scale.

By sharing first hand experiences in the sector, as well as learnings from city wide initiatives like the Refill Return Cup in Bristol, and the pioneering Shrewsbury Cup, to innovative trials run by organisations such as the National Trust, the Eden Project, and Blenheim Palace as well as forward-thing cafes, universities and businesses they aim to empower and enable businesses to make a meaningful impact in the transition to reuse systems. 

The guide, which is completely free to download, includes a full breakdown of what any organisation will need to consider when looking to get a returnable cups scheme off the ground including;  

  1. Choosing the right system & cup   

  1. Logistics and infrastructure  

  1. The level of technology involved   

  1. Behaviour change and marketing recommendations  

  1. Case studies & first-hand experiences from other organisations 

There is a growing urgency to shift away from our disposable single-use culture towards a reusable model. Currently an estimate 2.5 – 5 billion single-use cups are used in the UK every year. Globally, this number rises to a reported 500 billion. Shockingly, it’s estimated that just 1% of these cups are recycled and the WWF forecasts that without urgent action, by 2030 the UK will use 33% more cups than it did in 2020. The rest enter our waste stream or worse, end up polluting our streets, rivers and oceans. Single-use take-away packaging, including items like coffee cups, are consistently some of the most commonly found polluting items on our beaches and rivers. 

Dan Dicker, CEO and Founder of Circular&Co., emphasised the importance of a circular economy, stating, “There simply isn’t a need for anything to be single-use in modern society. 

“But for the last four years, collectively as an industry, we have not been able to move the dial past 5-6% of takeaway coffee being consumed in a reusable cup.  

“The fact is, we need a complementary mass market, mass habit-changing, mass engagement solution. After nearly two years of returnable development, using our Circular Returnable Cup in multiple global trials, and the in-depth work carried out in this blueprint, we’re now in a position to shape the future. It’s roll out time!”  

Jo Morley, Head of Campaigns at City to Sea, commented, “Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen the launch of a number of returnable cup schemes across the UK – varying in size, delivery mechanism and impact.  

“And at City to Sea, we’ve had a huge increase in the number of enquiries from the communities and businesses we work with looking for advice and support for how to get started and the most effective way to drive impact, which is what led us to create the blueprint.  

“Ultimately, for returnable systems to scale and become normalised we need industry collaboration, with schemes operating citywide, at events and within the workplace.  

“Our goal is to support the transition to reuse systems at scale by enabling and empowering organisations to create impactful returnable cup schemes.” 

City to Sea, is behind the city-wide Refill Return Cup which launched in Bristol in June of this year and is now live in 19 independent coffee shops across the city. Using the award-winning Refill app, the system is free to use enabling participants to pick up their hot drink of choice in a returnable cup when is then returned after use at participating outlets. Users are only charged if they fail to return their cup after a set period of time making it affordable and ensuring return rates remain high. Since launching in June, it’s already saved 3,600 single-use cups from ending up in our waste stream.  

Jane Martin, Head of Development at City to Sea, envisioned a future where single-use coffee cups are a thing of the past, saying, “This guide celebrates the many players trying to make this ambition a reality. We know how tough the challenge is first-hand, which is why we’re sharing this deep dive into all things returnable cup system.  

“Thanks to the innovators, the first movers, the grassroots changemakers and the social entrepreneurs for contributing to this study and driving the circular agenda.”  

To kickstart your journey towards a circular future, download the comprehensive guide. This invaluable resource will equip you with everything you need to know about implementing a successful returnable cup scheme. 

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