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Cardiff University researchers ponder coffee cup conundrum

Research carried out by scientists at Cardiff University has revealed that huge reductions in the number of disposal coffee cups being used could be made if customers were charged a small amount of money for them.

The disposable cups, widely used in coffee shops such as Costa, Cafe Nero and world renowned tax dodgers Starbucks, are recognised as contributing considerably towards waste. The research carried out by Cardiff University is to be used in a UK government investigation into waste, which also tackles the problem of plastic bottles and their effect on the environment.

Of the inquiry, Member of Parliament Mary Creagh said: “Our throwaway society has given us a tide of litter on our beaches, dead seabirds and fish, and plastic in our food. We all enjoy a take away coffee or tea, but the cups they are served in are particularly difficult to recycle because they combine plastic coating and cardboard. Our inquiry will be taking a serious look at solutions like the use of different materials, behaviour change, better recycling and bottle deposit return schemes.”

The findings from Cardiff University estimate that charging users for their coffee cups, in a similar scheme to that which led to plastic carrier bags costing a minimum of 5 pence in shops and supermarkets, could reduce the number of disposable cups being thrown away by “up to 300 million each year.”

This is according to the author of the report, Professor Wouter Poortinga, who also said: “Our results show that, on average, the use of reusable coffee cups could be increased by up to 12.5% with a combination of measures.”

Speaking about a possible solution to the issue, she also said that “There is an important nuance when it comes to financial incentives.

“People are far more sensitive to losses than to gains when making decisions – so if we really want to change a customer’s behaviour then a charge on a disposable cup is more likely to be effective.”

Some of the cafes around the Cardiff University campus were among those that took part in the study.

This is not the first time the issue of waste and disposable coffee cups has been raised. Last year, a protest over the amount of cups being wasted took the form of 10,000 of the items being loaded on top of a London double decker bus. The stunt sought to highlight the fact that the cups, which were being mistakenly took for recyclable, were in fact not so. Part of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “War on Waste”, a BBC One TV series, found that Britons wasted 2.5 billion of the non-recyclable cups every year.

The inquiry that Cardiff University are contributing to will attempt to address this issue and reduce the amount of waste heading to the UK’s landfills.

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