Reusable cup scheme to launch in Bristol to help tackle 2.5 billion single-use coffee cup problem

Bristol-based environmental charity, City to Sea, and environmental compliance scheme Ecosurety, are today on World Refill Day (June 16th) announcing the launch of the new “Bristol Refill Cup Scheme.” The innovative new project will enable Bristolians to “borrow” a reusable takeaway cup from a café and then return it so it can be used again and again, reducing waste and tackling pollution and littering across the city. Currently, an estimated 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups are used in the UK a year. 

The scheme will roll out across the city by Autumn 2022 as part of City to Sea’s award-winning Refill campaign and app, which will enable residents and visitors to find locations to pick up and drop off their reusable cup. City to Sea’s Refill app helps conscious consumers find hundreds of thousands of locations to eat, drink and shop with less plastic. This new innovation however will be the first of its kind to direct people to ‘borrow and return schemes’ through the Refill App. The Refill campaign started life as a pilot in Bristol back in 2015, when the city was European Green Capital and is now a global phenomenon with activity across the globe from Japan to Chile.   

An estimated 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups (30,000 tonnes) are used and thrown away each year in the UK, with 99% currently not recycled. The UK uses a mind-blowing 10,000 coffee cups every two minutes. These coffee cups would stretch around the world 5 and a half times if placed end to end.   

Jane Martin, Head of Development at City to Sea commented,  

“Our Refill campaign already stops over 100 million pieces of plastic a year, but we are ambitious to do more. By expanding the Refill campaign to help people not only find free drinking water and other locations to refill on the go, our goal is to turn the tide on single-use plastic across the city – helping to keep our streets, parks and iconic harbourside free from pollution. This reusable ‘returnable’ cup scheme in Bristol is designed to prevent 250,000 single-use hot drink cups from entering the waste stream every day. The project, launching across Bristol, will act as a pilot to better understand the most effective way to operate the system and engage the public before rolling it out in other major cities across the country in the future.  

Consumers shouldn’t have to choose  

New research released today by City to Sea to mark World Refill Day(16th June), suggests that the cost-of-living crisis is making it harder for consumers to make sustainable purchasing decisions and avoid single-use plastic, despite this still being a big concern for 95% of people surveyed. The new, independent, research, reveals that sustainability is falling down the priority list for consumers, with cost coming out on top; 48% of Brits report changing where they shop or what they buy in the last six months, and 60% saying they now have to prioritise cost over any other criteria. 

Shoppers are now finding it harder to make sustainable choices, with 40% citing cost as the biggest barrier to them reducing their use of single-use plastics. Almost two thirds of those surveyed (63%) said they felt frustrated (31%), powerless (21%) or angry (11%) about the amount of plastic that comes with their weekly shop; with almost another quarter feeling sad (13%) or worried (11%). However, 93% of people surveyed said they would like to see more refill and reuse options available reflecting a desire to “do more” to tackle plastic pollution. 

Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, said:  

“Plastic pollution remains one of the primary threats that our rivers, seas and oceans face. This is a challenge we all have a part in rising to and it’s important we make sure that our efforts to tackle plastic pollution are affordable and accessible to the whole city. I would encourage coffee shops from across our city to sign up to this pilot and help us grow this campaign. Inaction isn’t an option and I welcome those who come with innovative ideas like this to trial them in our city.”

Jim Pizer, the founder of Thali Cafés in Bristol who already run the first reusable Thali tin scheme in the city is supporting the pilot project. He commented saying, 

“Through years of experience of offering reusable takeaway packaging, we know what works and what doesn’t. The whole user experience needs to be effortless for the customer. We know it needs to be appealing but, crucially, it also needs to be fun. I’m looking forward to seeing this project launch to tackle one of the biggest sources of single-use plastics in our city.”  

How it works: 

Retailers across the city will sign up to the scheme, ordering cups at a low-cost subscription basis and will be provided with a stock of the reusable cups.  When a customer comes in for a coffee they are given the option to have their coffee in a single-use cup or a reusable cup – with the environmental benefits communicated to the customer.  

The award-winning Refill app supports the retailer experience. They scan a QR code on the cup and then the ownership of the cup goes to the customer. The customer uses the Refill app to manage the cup and will be reminded when are where to return the cup. The consumer then returns the cup to participating retailers who scan them back in, wash them and then the cups are used again….and again…and again!  

Commenting on the collaboration with City to Sea, Will Ghali, CEO of Ecosurety said, 

“We are excited to be part of the Bristol Reuse Cup Scheme via our Ecosurety Exploration Fund. This initiative is a fantastic opportunity to accelerate a shift in consumer behaviour by making it easy for people to use refillable cups when they are on the go.

“It is through these collaborations that we will continue to demonstrate our commitment to finding viable and tangible solutions to the challenges that packaging waste poses to the environment. We look forward to seeing the public’s positive engagement with the scheme and hopefully a UK-wide rollout of the initiative in the near future.” 

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