Ask the Q is calling on coffee chains to take greater responsibility for their paper cup waste by better supporting customers to use reusable take-away cups for their drinks.

The problem

Every day, millions of paper cups are being thrown away because most paper recycling facilities cannot process them. While efforts to address this are underway, there continues to be too little focus on avoiding packaging waste in the first instance.

Companies need to offer and actively promote discounts on reusable cups, and customers need to be given time to get around to buying a reusable cup and remembering to reuse it, so the discounts need to run for months rather than weeks. Selling reusable take-away cups and explaining the environmental impacts of paper cup waste in-store, will further encourage customers to use a reusable cup.


In November 2016 Ask the Q wrote to 25 cafe chains and asked them about their policies on reusable take-away cups. Of the 18/25 that responded only three offered any kind of ongoing incentive to customers to bring in their own reusable cup. These were Starbucks with a 25p discount, with the caveat that this did not apply to competitor-branded cups, Caffe Nero with an extra stamp on customer loyalty cards and Costa Coffee with a 25p donation to litter charities. However, Ask the Q visited company outlets and none of these incentives were sufficiently promoted by staff or on information displays, and were buried on company websites. Paul had also run a limited offer (until 30th November 2016) of a 10% discount but only if customers used the company's own branded cup.

Of the 18 that responded, only three sell reusable cups in store across all their outlets. In addition, EAT sell them in their Heathrow outlets, Paul ran a limited trial of them and Caffe Nero sell them online only.

Some companies didn't even have a policy permitting the use of reusable cups:

  • Asda: 'Our cafes are managed and run by Compass, a third party company. Unfortunately, it is not their policy for the customer's to bring their own cups and discount will not be provided subsequently'.
  • Tesco: 'I am not aware you can use your own cup, please let me know which store you use I can check if this is something they do?' [they didn't get back]
  • Morrisons: 'I can't see a problem with bringing in your own cup but I would just check with the Cafe Manager or staff before purchasing your cuppa.'
  • Wild Bean: 'I think you can'.
  • Burger King: 'It depends on the manager'.

Consumer action

  • Ask your favourite coffee chain to:
    • offer a discount on reusable take-away cups and promote it in prominent places in-store;
    • sell reusable cups to further encourage customers to take advantage of the discount;
    • clearly explain the environmental impacts of paper cup waste.


* In November/December 2016 Ask the Q wrote to 25 cafe outlets: AMT Coffee, Asda, Burger King, Caffe Nero, Caffe Ritazza, Coffee Republic, Costa, Dunkin Donuts, EAT, Greggs, Itsu, Krispy Kreme, Leon, McDonalds, Morrisons, Le Pain Quotidien, The Pasty Shop, Patisserie Valerie, Paul, Pret, Starbucks, Subway, Tesco, Upper Crust, Wild Bean Cafe.