UBC Undergraduate Research

Single-Use Items Reduction : Disposable Cups Sidhu, Mina; Mehrotra, Karan; Hu, Kaiwen


Prior to September 2018, UBC Food Services offered a 15-cent discount to consumers bringing reusable cups for hot beverages. Implemented in September 2018, a new pricing strategy was introduced: menus at UBC Food Services outlets now display a 25-cent charge for disposable cups in addition to the price of each drink. The strategy was implemented in alignment with UBC’s Zero Waste Action Plan, for the purpose of encouraging consumers to switch from disposable to reusable cups. Many disposable cups end up improperly recycled due to the required separation of the cup components (lid, sleeve, cup) and those that do end up recycled are difficult to process due to the plastic liner inside each disposable cup. The success of the new pricing model would mean less disposable cups in bins and landfills, reducing their environmental impact and the associated financial costs of disposal and separation. The intent of this SEEDS project is to determine the effectiveness of the new pricing strategy in encouraging sustainable behaviour through a reduction in disposable cup quantities. Additionally, we determine any secondary impacts of the pricing strategy on beverage sales across UBC Food Services’ outlets. To further encourage a switch to reusable cups, we tested the implementation of targeted marketing and reusable cups for sale at high-traffic coffee outlets to determine which strategies would best complement the 25 cent cup charge and decrease disposable cup usage by consumers. Key findings of our analysis include a substantial increase in the number of reusable cups brought in by consumers for the months of September, October and November 2018; more than 11000 reusable cups were used at six coffee outlets in September, compared to less than 2500 reusable cups at the same outlets in September 2017. The increase in reusable cups has grown to nearly 30% of all hot beverage sales. The effect of the new pricing model on sales is ambiguous due to significant environmental differences over October and November that distorted sales targets, but sales data from September indicate the impact of the pricing model is small. Residence dining halls were the most successful in switching consumers from disposable to reusable cups, followed by coffee-focused locations. Locations where coffee is a secondary offering in addition to a food menu saw the highest drop in coffee sales and smallest switch to reusable cups. The implementation of marketing providing encouragement to reusable cup users in addition to selling reusable cups in-store was able to increase the proportion of reusable cups brought in by 3% on average. At little to no cost of implementation and upkeep, the use of marketing was an effective contributor to encouraging reusable cup usage. We recommend that UBC Food Services retain the 25-cent cup charge for future months to determine if further effects on sales will follow low-impact September trends, and concentrate future efforts to reduce disposable cup usage at their coffee-focused and residence locations. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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