Coffee cups are not recyclable due to the outer cardboard shell being lined with polyethylene (KeepCup, 2017). Despite these materials being recyclable separately, they cannot be recycled when combined. With over 500 billion disposable cups being manufactured globally each year, and one million disposable coffee cups being sent to landfill each minute, it is safe to say this is a global problem. Although there are facilities that can offer the separation process and recycle the cups, there are fewer than 1 in 400 coffee chains using this service (KeepCup, 2017). Alternatively, compostable cups are a step closer to being sustainable as they are biodegradable if disposed of correctly, so would not be contributing to landfill.
This problem extends much closer to home as the coffee cups being used at the University of Warwick are neither recyclable nor compostable. This is particularly problematic due to the high volume of cups being used and disposed of on campus, with the University and the Students Union purchasing approximately 1,075,000 per annum, making a significant contribution to preventable landfill waste. Although the University had existing incentives in place, with students receiving a 10p discount when using a reusable cup, we believed this was not largely being utilised by students and could be taken further.
As if this wasn’t a big enough problem, the majority of students believed the coffee cups that were being used on campus were recyclable, as shown in figure one below. This highlighted that not only were cups on campus non-recyclable, they were also being treated like they were and contaminating the current recyclable waste.
|Figure One: Pie-chart showing split of 118 students who believe coffee cups are/are not recyclable.|
As a result of the previously discussed, we identified three problems to target at the University of Warwick:
- Coffee cups being used across the SU were not recyclable or compostable
- Coffee cups being used across the University were not recyclable or compostable
- The majority of students are currently using non-sustainable cups
In order to address these problems, we took both a top-down and bottom-up approach targeting both the University outlets and the students themselves. Over 75% of adolescents and adults consume caffeine at least daily (James, 1998), so it is safe to say it is considered a part of people's everyday lives. Previous research has associated food choice with the use of system I, acting as a response to stimulus driven incentives (Shiv & Fedorikhin, 1999). Thus, when students make the decision to purchase a coffee, they are likely to already be in a relaxed, automatic state and thus are not thinking through each aspect of the process, using their system I thinking. Therefore, by getting the University to make the change, we would be improving the student’s behaviour without them needing to engage their effortful, system II thinking. With this in mind, each of the identified problems above will be discussed separately.
1. Coffee cups being used across the SU were not recyclable or compostable.
In order to address the problem of cups within the Students Union, we approached it in a top-down fashion, speaking to the sabbatical officers, SU staff and Sustainability Champions throughout the meetings listed below:
- 4th November: Meeting with SU President
- 17th November: Meeting with Sustainability Champions and Environmental Ethics Officer
- 7th December: Applied for SU Funding Grant
- 25th January: Meeting with Sustainability Champions for All Student Meeting Motion
- 6th February: Proposed motion at All Student Meeting
- 10th February: Motion passed at All Student Meeting
We applied for an SU Funding Grant of £3,000, using the door-in-the-face technique. First proposed by Cialdini et al (1975), the door-in-the-face technique suggests that compliance with a smaller request is more likely if a bigger, more extreme request is proposed first. We applied for the full £3,000 expecting it to get rejected, but hoping that a smaller proportion would be offered to us in compensation. This was successful, and we were offered £200 for the use of promotional materials of our campaign in promoting the use of reusable cups. How we spent this £200 is outlined under problem three below.
We proposed a motion at the All Student Meeting (ASM) stating that the SU should use compostable cups by the end of this term. The ASM is an opportunity for students to propose something they believe should be changed across campus, which is proposed and discussed at the meeting, prior to being opened to students to vote on the motion. This motion was initially rejected, as it was of a high cost to the SU (£2,200 per year) for them to replace their current cups with compostable ones, within a short time frame. As a result we negotiated, and readjusted the motion, mandating the SU to do the following:
1. To mandate the Democracy and Development Officer (DDO) and Environment and Ethics (EE) Officer to work with SU commercial services to explore the feasibility of introducing compostable cups in all of its outlets as soon as practically possible.
2. To mandate the DDO & EE Officer to lobby the university for the introduction of compostable bins across campus, simultaneously with the compostable cup introduction.
With this motion being accepted, we proposed it at the ASM as seen in Figure Two. This was then opened to the student vote across the week, in which the majority voted in favour of the motion and it passed (see figure three).
|Figure Two: Photo of us proposing the motion at the ASM|
As a result of the motion passing, it is now SU policy that the sabbatical officers will lobby the student union to use compostable cups in its outlets, and to lobby both the SU and the University to introduce compostable bins so the compostable cups can be disposed of correctly. Although this has not been an instantaneous success, we feel confident that this is something the SU will be offering in the close future as a result of our motion.
2) Coffee cups being used across the university were not recyclable or compostable.
In order to work with the University, again using a top-down approach, we organised a stream of meetings in which we articulated the problem, and began working towards a solution:
- 3rd November: Meeting with head of Global Sustainable Development (GSD) Degree
- 18th November: Meeting with GSD Society
- 30th November: Meeting with Director of University Food and Retail Strategy
- 7th December: First contact with KeepCup, reusable cup company
- 2nd February: Meeting with Director of University Food and Retail Strategy
- 16th February: Meeting with Head of Retail Services, Head of Marketing and Rootes Grocery Store Manager
Having multiple meetings with people in authority across the university campus, we mainly employed the technique of ‘Just Ask’, a strategy Cialdini (2007) identifies as a key ‘weapon’ for influencing behaviour. Just ask has shown to be beneficial in multiple contexts, from more people agreeing to go on a date (Clark & Hatfield, 1989) to being given money when asking for it (Santos, Leve & Pratkanis, 1994).
Using this, we simply asked the various people we met whether they would be willing to replace the current disposable cups on campus with something more sustainable. We quickly learnt through our meetings with the GSD team that recyclable cups were not efficiently in production yet, so began pushing for the use of compostable cups as the next best thing.
We learnt that the University were planning on transitioning to the use of compostable cups and lids eventually but were in no rush to do this. Yet, through our consistent, persistent and informed proposals, the University have now made the transition to the use of compostable cups and lids. Figure Four shows the cups currently now being used across campus.
In addition to this, we proposed that the University should introduce and promote the use of reusable cups more than they already do. After conversations with the University, it was agreed between us and the head of retail services that the fund from the 5p charge on carrier bags would be spent on 3,000 University branded mugs for us to give out in Go Green week. The giving out of the mugs marked the introduction of our #TimeToEvolve campaign, and the opportunity to gain a free reusable cup was advertised across campus, as seen for example in Figure Five. We were successful in this and 3,000 University of Warwick travel mugs (pictured in Figure Six) were given out to students on the 6th March 2017.
|Figure Five: Sign advertising the free reusable mugs outside Rootes Grocery Store|
|Figure Six: First day of #TimeToEvolve Campaign, giving out the free mugs!|
Additionally, we proposed the sale of KeepCup reusable mugs, a brand which has created the World’s first barista standard reusable cup, with a mission to eradicate the use of disposable cups worldwide (Keepcup, 2017). We picked this brand as they offer a contemporary and stylish design, something which the Director had made it clear he wanted within his products. We are proud to say that from the result of our meetings, the KeepCups were on sale from 7th March across campus’ outlets, and we promoted the sale of the cups in Rootes Grocery store again, as a part of the #TimeToEvolve campaign, pictured in Figure Seven. Please see below, under problem three, how these promotions were used to push the use of sustainable cups on campus.
|Figure Seven: the launch of the Keepcups|
The sale and the push of the Keepcups has continued beyond our campaign, as the University have created a webpage to continue to promote and sell the Keepcups, as seen in Figure Eight, or by clicking here. This link was emailed to us with the contents of the email stating: 'great evidence for you and the team, of the genuine change made!'.
The Director offered us the following quote for this blog:
|Figure Eight: The universities webpage promoting Keepcups.|
The Director offered us the following quote for this blog:
“Throughout the first meeting I had with Olivia, Izzy, Charlotte and Hannah, I expressed that changing the coffee-cups on campus to be compostable was not something I was opposed to, but was something that had never been asked of me nor had a solution ever been presented.
Over a series of meetings, the students completed research around the subject and presented statistics, including that the majority of current students at Warwick believed that the cups being used were recyclable.
A variety of ideas have been explored between us, from using a collection service to recycle the cups we already use, to swapping to compostable cups, to encouraging the use of reusable cups.
As a result of the input from the students, I am pleased to say that the both the coffee cups and their lids being used across the University Outlets are now compostable. In addition to this there will be an introduction of ‘KeepCup’ reusable coffee cups on sale across the outlets in line with ‘Go Green’ week and the finale of the students campaign. I know they are now working with the Students Union in order to get them to follow the universities lead in introducing compostable cups into their outlets, and to push for compostable bins in line with this introduction.”
3. The majority of students are currently using non-sustainable cups
The fact that the majority of students believed the coffee cups were recyclable could explain why they were making little attempt to use reusable cups. In order to target the high volume of students using disposable cups, we decided to encourage the use of reusable mugs. Thus students would not be required to consider how to dispose of the coffee cups offered on campus. To do this, we used the theory of planned behaviour (Ajzen, 1991) to attempt to change their behaviour, as illustrated in figure nine.
Figure Nine: Theory of planned behaviour (Ajzen, 1991)
In order to change the student’s overall intention to being more likely to use a reusable cup, we first addressed their perceived behavioural control. Perceived behavioural control refers to how much an individual believes they are able to perform the behaviour (Ajzen, 1991). We targeted this by offering students a free reusable travel mug, so they had the resources to use a sustainable cup in future at no cost to themselves. Secondly, by giving out such a large number of the mugs (3,000) we hope to have induced a sense of subjective norms. Subjective norms refers to the perceived social pressure for an individual to perform a behaviour (Ajzen, 1991). So, by 3,000 students receiving and using a reusable mug others are likely to feel they should do the same. In turn, this should reduce the number of disposable cups used. We were not disappointed when news of our free reusable mugs spread across campus, students were queueing throughout the Rootes grocery store to receive a mug. Finally, we addressed their attitudes. Attitudes refers to the favorability of an individual performing a behaviour, which can be influenced by the knowledge they have of the subject and its perceived consequences (Eagry & Chailen, 1993). In giving them the free mug we conversed with them regarding the fact current cups on campus needed to go into landfill bins, and hence it was overall more beneficial and sustainable for them to be using these re-usable mugs. We also got students’ receiving a mug to sign a written contract committing to use the mug as much as possible, as outlined below. These three components combined should work to positively affect the students behavioural intentions, and encourage them to use more sustainable cups in the future.
By giving students a free mug, we used the behaviour change technique of reciprocation, whereby people are obligated to repay what another person has provided them. As shown by Regan (1971), people are more likely to perform a behaviour if they have been given a favour beforehand. Therefore, by giving students a free mug, they should be more likely to use the mug in the future.
In addition to using the theory of planned behaviour, we also implemented some further behaviour change techniques using our £200 SU grant we mentioned above. We first purchased 2,000 business cards with a design that can be seen in figure ten.
Figure Ten: Business card design
Firstly, the design on the front of the business card in figure ten, has been designed by an artist to incorporate both dimensionality alteration and pictorial analogy. These are two of Goldenberg, Mazursky and Solomons (1999) creativity templates. The dimensional alteration template shows the impact of a product across time. We did this by showing the coffee cup evolving throughout time, so it can be seen from original non-transportable cups, to the use of polystyrene cups, to the frequently seen today disposable cups to where people should be - the use of reusable cups. A pictorial analogy template uses symbols alongside the advertised product. We did this with the use of the evolving figures which is a well known symbol, alongside images of coffee cups. We are hoping to imply that people should evolve their use of coffee cups in a similar way to how humans have evolved throughout time: for the better. The hashtag has been created to incorporate the use of social media as an advertising element. Hence, the #TimeToEvolve being our catchphrase, implying people should have caught up with the times in using a reusable mug. We were pleased to find students' did find the hashtag, in figure Eleven.
Figure Eleven: An example of a tweet tweeted during our campaign.
These business cards were given out with a free tea-bag, also purchased through our SU grant. This incorporated the technique of reciprocation, with the intention that by us giving students a free gift, they are more likely to purchase a KeepCup in store and again, use the reusable mug. Similarly, students who purchased a Keepcup were offered a free drinks voucher for use in retail outlets, and those who use a reusable mug in the outlets will receive 10p off a hot drink, as an incentive to purchase. The use of incentives has been found to be successful in influencing individuals behaviour in the past, with the gift of a free lottery ticket significantly increasing the number of people willing to donate blood (Gotte & Stutzer, 2008). Therefore, we hoped, and research would suggest, the free drink would encourage people to use their reusable mugs in the future.
In a final attempt to change students behaviour, upon receiving a free gift (either a mug or a tea-bag), we asked them to sign a contract with the following statement, as mentioned above:
“I commit to using my reusable mug as frequently as possible, and am therefore helping to save the planet.”
Asking students to sign this contract upon receiving a free mug was enforcing the use of written commitment. As shown by Katzev and Wang, (1994), people are more likely to perform a behaviour if they have verbally and publicly committed to it. We had over 1,500 students sign the contract, pictured in Figure Twelve, and thus they are more likely to use their reusable mug in the future. The following day, we commented on the people we saw using the mugs, and one of the responses we received was “Of course I am using it, I signed to say I would!”
Figure Twelve: The signed contracts
In addition, we also used the foot-in-the-door technique. As demonstrated in research by Freedman and Fraser (1966), people have a desire to be consistent with their previous behaviour, and thus are more likely to comply with a bigger request if it follows a smaller, related request. During the Keepcup launch, we asked people first if they were willing to sign the contract, the smaller request, before asking if they would like to purchase a Keepcup, the bigger request. We can confirm that 60% of people who signed the contract, also bought a keepcup on the 7th March.
Figure Thirteen: Our advertising campaign on the big screen
Figure Fourteen: Our posters used to advertise
In order to promote our campaign for Go Green week, we advertised on the Big Screen in the piazza (see figure thirteen), and stuck posters around campus to advertise the cups people could claim. These designs can be seen in figure fourteen, whereby the #TimeToEvolve design is consistent across all of them. Tellis (2003) has shown advertising to be successful in encouraging people to do what is advertised and these effects can be long lasting. Therefore, we can hope that the effects will be long-lasting and people will continue to use their reusable mugs now our campaign has ended.
We are proud to summarise our achievements as the following:
- The University of Warwick outlets are now using compostable cups and lids
- There is now policy that the SU are to work towards an introduction of compostable cups and bins in their outlets and across campus
- 3,000 students and staff now have a University of Warwick travel mug
- 60% of those who committed to using a reusable mug, bought a KeepCup
- Over 1,500 have written to commit to using their reusable mug as frequently as possible
We can now confidently say that the current University of Warwick student population is more aware of the problem of disposable cups, and will be working towards reducing the 2.5 billion disposable cups used in Britain each year. Although there is a long way to go before University of Warwick can say it is sustainable in this respect, it is definitely one step closer.
Charlotte Cartwright, Hannah Freeman, Olivia Gillard & Isabel Nelson
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