Resource Use

World Refill Day: City to Sea and Ecosurety launch cup reuse scheme

Today (16 June), on World Refill Day, environmental charity City to Sea and Ecosurety have announced the launch of a new reusable and returnable cup scheme. The Bristol Refill Cup Scheme will be piloted across Bristol by Autumn 2022.

 City to Sea and EcosuretyEach year in the UK, an estimated 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups (30,000 tonnes) are used and thrown away, with 99 per cent currently not recycled. City to Sea says the reusable ‘returnable’ cup scheme is designed to prevent 250,000 single-use hot drink cups from entering the waste stream every day.

Aiming to help tackle the increasing single-use coffee cup consumption, the scheme will offer help to consumers who want to make sustainable purchases when buying take away coffee whilst assisting in reducing disposable packaging waste ‘at point of sale’.

The project 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.

Bristol Refill Cup Scheme is the final of eight projects to receive funding from the £1 million Ecosurety Exploration Fund which supports projects that aim to reduce the environmental impact of packaging, batteries, or e-waste.

How the Bristol Refill Cup Scheme works

At a low-cost subscription basis, retailers across Bristol will be able to order and stock reusable cups, with this being trialed at a bandwidth of rates between £25 and £50 pcm, depending on the size of the outlet. Customers will be given the option to have their coffee in a single-use cup or a reusable cup, with the environmental benefits of the reusable option communicated to them.

Using the City to Sea’s Refill app, retailers will be able to scan a QR code on the cup, transfering the ownership of the cup to the customer. Customers will use the app to manage the cup, receiving reminders about when and where to return it. Once returned, the cup will be scanned back in, washed, and reused. Customers can return the cups to any participating retailers, regardless of which one they obtained it from. 

Speaking to Resource, City to Sea explained what the reminders might look like: "This is something we are intending to do some research and behaviour change around and then test on Bristolians. We want to find the sweet spot for people and planet and everybody is different. So, it might be a £5 fine if you do not return your cup within two weeks, or it could be the offer of a free coffee to get you to take your cup back to store, or perhaps a gentle reminder about the environmental benefits of the scheme."

City to Sea will be working with Bristol Waste to understand any leakage into the environment, using the QR codes on the cups to trace where they came from. However, the charity notes, "this is not about punishing consumers though this is about giving them a choice between single-use or reuse and supporting the experience through the Refill App and the communications surrounding the scheme."

The Bristol Refill Cup Scheme will be the first of its kind to direct people to ‘borrow and return schemes’ through the Refill app.

The World Refill Day Survey

City to Sea has also released new research, carried out by Obsurvant, which finds that the cost-of-living crisis is making it harder for consumers to make sustainable purchasing decisions and avoid single use plastic – despite this being a big concern for 95 per cent of people surveyed.

The research also found that ‘48 per cent of Brits report changing where they shop or what they buy in the last six months’, with ‘60 per cent saying they now have to prioritise cost over any other criteria’.

City to Sea say that ‘almost two thirds of those surveyed (63 per cent) said they felt frustrated (31 per cent), powerless (21 per cent) or angry (11 per cent) about the amount of plastic that comes with their weekly shop; with almost another quarter feeling sad (13 per cent) or worried (11 per cent)’. However, 93 per cent 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.

Accelerating “a shift in consumer behaviour”

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.

“Alongside the introduction of mandatory take back of disposable cups by 2024, we believe that reusable cup schemes have an important role to play in reducing disposable packaging waste at point of sale and helping people to reduce their carbon footprint and the amount of packaging they use.

“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.”

Jane Martin, Head of Development at City to Sea, said: “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.”