New publication: Fostering sustainable behaviour in retail – looking beyond the coffee cup

The environmental issues associated with disposable coffee cups has become the focus of attention for many businesses, government, the media and the public. I have written about the issue on the cafespaces blog a number of times too, but more recently a journal article I produced  on this issue has been published highlighting how encouraging  sustainability in the coffee shop industry means more than just addressing what we drink our coffee in.

The article ‘Fostering sustainable behaviour in retail: looking beyond the coffee cup’ in the journal Social Business is a short thought piece which begins to explore the importance of integrating sustainable behaviour in business, and introduces some of the key stakeholders involved. It then explores some of the developments in the coffee shop industry and the implications of this for sustainable behaviour focusing on the examples of recycling coffee cups, coffee shop building design and the use of waste coffee grounds. The article finishes by outlining a research agenda which considers pathways for investigating the role of different actors in fostering sustainable behaviour in the industry. In doing so it introduces my more recent research project which explores sustainability in the coffee shop industry in the UK and Germany, an attempt to explore some of the issues raised in the article in more depth.

This discussion is part of a special issue of the journal Social Business which includes articles from a number of colleagues in my research centre the Centre for Business in Society at Coventry University, highlighting some of the key issues being explored there from electric vehicles, inclusive labour markets, and  constructing inclusive economies, to data-driven culture and the circular economy.

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Book Review: The Devils Cup by Stewart Lee Allen

Devils cup Stewart AllenIf you’re interested in the history of coffee and you like reading travelogues, then this book may interest you. I’ve recently been trying to read more around the history of coffee more generally, and a reference from another book led me here. The Devil’s Cup: Coffee, the Driving Force in History provides a good overview of how coffee travelled from its origins in Ethiopia, around the world to become the global commodity it has become today.

The author travels around the globe from Ethiopia, to Yemen , India, Turkey, Austria to France, Brazil and the US, on a quest to learn more about the origins, cultures and traditions associated with coffee. The book is useful in that it highlights a range of different traditions (both modern and historical) associated with coffee and explores some of the key individuals that were instrumental in driving the growth of the coffee industry.

Written in a travelogue style, the book is easy to read, and the author takes you on a journey through his both successful and less successful attempts to seek out knowledge around coffee, and a range of other escapades along the way.

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Appearance on Keys to the Shop podcast Episode 90

Some time ago I was made aware of the Keys to the Shop podcast when listening to the guys from Orange Cactus Coffee. It’s an excellent podcast for those interested in the coffee shop industry. Produced by Chris Deferio this podcast covers a whole range of issues related to coffee and coffee shops with each episode featuring an interview with a different guest or discussing a topic relevant to coffee shops. Recently I’ve particularly enjoyed episodes with Ales Pospisil co-founder of European Coffee Trip, and the new Coffee Masters Champion, Agnieszka Rojewska.

Even more recently I was excited to be asked to be a guest on the podcast to talk about some of my research.

Episode 90 Researching the Cafe with Dr Jennifer Ferreira is now available to listen to. keys to the shop episode 90 jennifer ferreira


We talked about a range of issues from the research projects I’ve been involved in, the cafe’s place in society to its impact on the environment, community and the economy. It was a great experience, and I was delighted to be asked to be involved in the podcast.

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Considering the Coffee Free House

Recently I’ve had some time to catch up on various coffee related reading and videos. European Coffee Trip published an interview with Jeremy Challender, who is well known for his role in Prufrock Coffee in London (and now Barista Hustle). Jeremy is someone who has been a very important figure in the London Coffee industry, and I was fortunate to learn a little bit from him when I undertook some barista training at Prufrock a few years ago. The article mentioned a keynote delivered by Jeremy at the Nordic Roasters Forum entitled ‘Coffee free house’ which has some interesting insights into changes taking place in the industry, and implications this may have for the future.

The talk considers some of the issues for a multi-roaster cafe, and for the coffee roasting and coffee shop industry more generally. Jeremy discusses how changes that have taken place to breweries and the emerging craft beer culture over the decades might provide lessons for the coffee industry. In particular he makes a number of observations from the coffee scene (both in the UK and more broadly in other European countries). Importantly he notes that the ‘appreciable difference’ between mass commercial coffee chains and specialty coffee shops such as Prufrock has become lower than in the past. The proliferation of high quality coffee shops, and efforts from coffee chains  to up their game have meant that that for some people Prufrock and other coffee shops are no longer at different ends of the quality spectrum. You can walk into a number of shops and receive high quality batch brew, espresso and latte art.

He explores how Prufrock evolved into a multi-roaster cafe and how they have a good relationship with Square Mile Coffee Roasters, but that it will be important moving forward to ensure that there is an ‘appreciable difference’ in the coffee that is obtained by the coffee shop in order to remain a prominent coffee shop in the industry.

Jeremy highlighted how Prufrock’s first principle was to try and made the best coffee, and educate people, and in doing so various quality control measure that had been introduced to ensure that they can produce the best coffee that their brand is known for. He talks about the brew bar in Prufrock and how that allows the coffee shop to communicate quality to customers, and how that allows for a changing selection of coffees for the customer to experience.

He highlights how ensuring a business remains sustainable is a key part of running a coffee business (and how important it became in his role as a trainer), particularly set again increasing prices for rent, products and services. Considering business sustainability Jeremy suggests that out of the different stakeholders involved in the coffee industry (in particular the cafe owner, the roaster and the farmer), it is only really the roaster who is in a secure position in that they are not tied to a particular location – he suggests that ‘coffee roasters are immune to gentrification’. They have the freedom to move where rental prices are lower,  and therefore have the opportunity to lower these and other costs – a cafe cannot do that. He suggests that this is a threat to the multi-roaster cafe who seek to provide that ‘appreciable difference’ in the products that it serves, but that do not have the flexibility to adjust location or costs to remain sustainable.

Jeremy concludes the talk by asking the audience to consider how successful their coffee business are an how successful they need to be to remain active in the coffee market, highlighting how it would be a shame if coffee shops all ended up roasting their own coffee and became vertically integrated. He explains how the multi-roaster cafe can be much like a wine shop, celebrating the different wine growers and wine maker.

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Future gazing for coffee shops: changing trends

Much of my work explores the past and present of the coffee and coffee shop industries, investigating changing trends in the industry and how this impacts consumers and communities. I’m often asked to consider what the future of the coffee industry might look like, what the next trend might be, if we are in a coffee bubble, and when/if this bubble might burst. One of the leading figures in the coffee industry, James Hoffman, co-founder of Square Mile Coffee Roasters has often considered the changes taking place in the coffee industry, and made predictions about what might happen in the future on his blog Jim Seven.

In March 2018 James published a video on his youtube channel of his talk from a Square Mile Coffee Roasters wholesale event entitled ‘How the past predicts the future’.

This talk provides a great overview of how the coffee, coffee shop and coffee roasting industries have developed since the UK, particularly in London. Starting back in 2005 the talk explores some of the key figures and businesses that began to change the coffee industry or who were seen to be doing something different at the time; for example Flat White in Soho, and Monmouth Coffee in 2007. He highlights that in London in particular, the developing coffee community was really important in developing the London scene, something that still seems to be the case today.

Store Street Espresso Crtado (2)

The talk moves on to question the extent to which coffee businesses who provided  ‘quality’ were successful – in particular he suggests that rather than ‘quality’, it is actually ‘advantage’ that can lead to success in the industry; while quality is an advantage it isn’t the overall factor that leads to success. Moving forward the talk considers how the forces of capitalism have shaped the coffee industry, and and the activities of different coffee businesses as part of this – from how Pret prices its coffee to how Intelligentsia in the US organises its shops and consumer experience.

James also suggests that in London coffee there has been a period of stagnation in the last five years or so; ideas and innovations have begun to slow down and that this is just really part of the innovation cycle. So, what does he expect to happen in coffee? He highlights that we have already seen a number of consolidations (by JAB etc), in the coffee industry, and that may well continue, but also that it is likely that we will see more companies that don’t roast coffee any more because roasting your own coffee no longer provides that advantage that would equal success. Under this trend we may see more coffee companies moving back to the model of having a large roaster roast their coffee and brand it for them in order to save money, so the price point can be the advantage.

At this point James questions what if we want a different future for the coffee industry? He argues that patience will be key, and that while it is difficult in places like London to stand out as a high quality coffee shop because there are so many, this may not be the case in a few years time as companies consolidate, or close. He closes the talk by saying that ‘we have to have a really strong idea of what we want to achieve, we have to have a vision, and we have to have people behind it‘ and it’s about ‘remaining different to everyone else and accepting what’s happening in the market place‘. Much like how the coffee industry, not only in London but in locations across the world has been led by passionate individuals, the future is in the hands of individuals who are willing to work to change it.

The talk is highly recommended for a good broad overview of how the London coffee scene, and coffee industry more generally in the UK has developed, and what might happen in the future.

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Coffee with a conscience: social enterprises in the coffee shop industry

One aspect of my research into the coffee shop industry is the extent to which the industry contributes to the development of ‘community’  – one element of this is exploring the activities of social enterprises in the industry and how they contribute to different communities.

Back in 2016 I wrote a couple of blog posts about the rise of social enterprise cafes in the UK in recent years, highlighting a range of different examples. I need to update the map that featured in the first blog post – I’ll post a new link when that’s completed.

The trend for social enterprises to be an important feature of the coffee shop landscape has continued, and is evident in other areas of the coffee industry too.  There are not only a number of coffee shops and cafes that are designated social enterprises (such as Second Shot or Paper + Cup), but a range of other different coffee businesses too.

One example that stands out is Redemption Roasters: a specialty coffee social enterprise that trains young offenders at Aylesbury Prison (and the world’s only coffee roaster in a prison). The roaster and training centre specialises in teaching coffee skills to young offenders and where possible employing them in their chain of London coffee shops (Lamb’s Conduit and Farringdon) and that have developed as a result. They now even have a Kickstarter campaign to launch their own coffee pod range.

Established in 2015, Old Spike Roastery located in Peckham is a social enterprise that seeks to make an impact on the homeless community providing training, jobs and housing support as part of their activities, other than roasting coffee.

Also established by one of the co-founders of Old Spike Roastery, is Change Please another social enterprise that seeks to address the issue of homelessness. It provides training for people who are homeless and trains them to be baristas. They have a number of coffee carts in locations across London including Borough Market, Canary Wharf, Olympic Park and The Shard as well as a number of office coffee bar locations.

“If we can just get a small proportion of coffee drinkers to simply change where they buy their coffee, we could really change the world.”Cemal Ezel, Change Please, Founder

Well Grounded is a Tower Hamlets based community Interest Company establishing in 2016 which operates a specialty coffee training academy that aims to tackle unemployment by training young people to work as professional baristas and open up career opportunities in the coffee industry.

While these are all focused around London, there are examples appearing in other areas of the country too, such as the Café from Crisis in Oxford which seeks to provide training opportunities for people experiencing homelessness (there are other Café from Crisis branches in London and Newcastle.

And it’s not just in the UK where the social enterprise model for coffee shops has emerged. Established in 2015 in California, USA the 1951 coffee company is staffed entirely by refugees, aiming to provide training to refugees and raise awareness of the experience of refugees that arrive in the USA. In Minnesota, USA the Fresh Grounds coffee shop, established in 2004 provides job training programmes for young people who experience challenges to employment (from homelessness to disability).

I’m really interested to find more examples from across the UK and beyond of social enterprises related to the coffee shop industry – if you know of any, do get in touch. It would be great to create a global database of social enterprise coffee shops and coffee roasters.

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Coffee shops, consumers and technology: reducing the sea of laptops

People working on laptops, or sitting looking at their smart phones in a cafe is a common scene. A recurring conversation takes place in the coffee shop industry about whether coffee shops should provide wifi, power outlets etc with some arguing that if they do so it encourages customers to spend longer periods of time on the premises, but not necessarily spending very much.

A recent discussion on CBC radio highlighted how some coffee shops in Canada are banning the use of laptops and smart phones on their premises, as part of a so-called ‘digital detox’.

One of the first questions in the discussion is why are coffee shops doing this? Marketing professor Markus Giesler suggests that we need to understand two key trends in the coffee industry. First that coffee has become more of an art form, where artisanal competitions take place, and coffee has become almost a recreational thing for some people. Second, there is a competing trend where coffee shops have increasingly become work places. Young consumers, millennials have increasingly turned to the coffee shop as an office space. According to Giesler it is these two competing trends can be understood to shape the landscape that coffee shop owners have to navigate.

There has been a recent imperative to ban laptops, to try and shape consumer behaviour. For some coffee shops, people who often work on laptops spend too much time, but too little money for their business, and they need to do something about it.

The question was posed ‘What are the potential pros of banning tech?’ with Giesler suggesting that it could in theory lead to the return of the art of  hospitality, focusing on conversation and community. Although it was highlighted that a disadvantage with this kind of policy is that it may alienate the younger consumer crowd in particular.  Increasingly workers are not as tied to an office work setting, and need alternative places to work and hold meetings etc. Cafes that ban wifi laptops will be much less attractive to this cohort.

The discussion then moved on to consider how likely is it that banning tech will change consumer behaviour and encourage social interaction. Giesler  suggests that the notion that cafes are places for social interaction is a bit of a romantic understanding. Consumer research shows that millennials think that this is more their parents view of a coffee shops.  Young consumers see it more like a workplace. This presents a challenge for the coffee shop owner to design a place in a manner that makes it attractive both culturally and commercially, potentially to both groups.

The discussion then moves on to include the owner of Taloola Cafe in Windsor, a place that made the conscious decision that they didn’t want to provide wifi. According to Linda Zagaglioni, the owner, coffee culture in coffee shops in the US are the piazzas of Europe, places for people to come and enjoy the atmosphere. She wants to offer food, drink, hospitality and atmosphere in her cafe and with the use of technology and people coming to do their work, some people extend their stay which does not create the atmosphere that had been intended. While customers have questioned why no wifi, there have also been occasions where people have said that the fact the cafe had no wifi forced them to sit and enjoy their breakfast.

Every year in the media there seem to be stories of cafes banning wifi or removing sockets, or creating laptop free zones (either spatially or temporally). For many coffee shop businesses to be sustainable they need a continuous turnover of customers, which can be prevented if a small number of individuals are using the space. This is particularly an issue where the coffee shop is small in the first place, or is located in an area with particularly high rental costs. Although, there are also coffee shops that have embraced the trend of working in coffee shops, establishing dedicated co-working zones, or encouraging the use of the coffee shop as a meeting space, advertising their free wifi in a bid to attract consumers. This is likely to be an issue that continues to reappear in the media while coffee shops are an ever present on our high streets.

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Book Review: Coffee for one by K J Fallon

coffee for one K J FallonWhile there has been growth and change in our coffee consumption out of the home in coffee shops as they have become staple features of the daily lives of many people across the globe, the patterns in coffee consumption at home has been changing too. One of the big changes over recent decades is a switch from consumers (both home and in offices etc) from instant coffee, or coffee brewed in bulk by machine to the single serve machine and the coffee pod.

‘While proliferation of specialty coffee was one of the factors that paved the way for the single-serve option, other events lay the groundwork for single serve’ (KJ Fallon, 2018,p. 19).

Coffee for one: how the new way to make your morning brew became the tempest in a coffee pod by K J Fallon explores the emergence and rise in popularity of the single serve coffee pod.

The book is divided into three sections. The first, ‘Crop to cup through the decades’ takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of coffee consumption, identifying some of the ‘revolutions’ that changed the coffee industry including, the Mr Coffee machine, the birth of the coffee house in the US, and the coffee bag, as well as some key points in coffee history and the coffee production process. The second, ‘Loving the single life?‘, moves on to the core focus of the book to explore how the single serve coffee pod options came to be, highlighting the key players (Keuring, Nespresso etc), influences that shaped the market, and how the K-cup came to dominate.

‘The Single serve represents not just a brewing sea change for the United States forty billion dollar industry, but also a lifestyle shift. No need for someone to have a pot of coffee for a family or group. Now you can make fresh-brewed coffee just for yourself, without engaging anyone in conversation and without even looking up from your iPhone‘ (KJ Fallon, 2018:p. 46). 

The third and final section ‘Coffee for one evolves’ considers some of the environmental issues associated with the coffee pod machines, coffee and health, and consideration of what might happen to single serve coffee and coffee brewing more generally in the future.

The book provides entertaining narrative about the history of coffee, and particularly the history of coffee in the home. Although the book may be very focused on the US market, there are likely to be synergies with consumption patterns that have taken place in other mature coffee consumption markets too. In the UK even some specialty coffee companies have been producing coffee pods including Colonna Coffee and Volcano Coffee Works, suggesting the UK too has a thriving coffee pod market. From my own research perspective I found the examples about efforts in sustainability (both environmental and social) from Oakland Coffee Works (started and owned by members of the band Green Day) and the Laughing Man Coffee Foundation (established by Hugh Jackman), interesting. The environmental impact of coffee pods is an important issue given the rapid rise in popularity of these single serve machines.

The single serve coffee machine has become an integral part of daily lives for many people and is an important part of global coffee history, and this book provides a good overview of how this coffee option came to be some prominent in the US.


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Exploring Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies and Coffee

Discussions of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ethereum have been in the news quite a lot over the last year, in response to rapidly changing values and a proliferation of uses in different industries. The coffee industry is beginning to witness the use of different cryptocurrencies and blockchain applications with more conversations are taking place about how blockchain may be a useful concept for altering the global coffee supply chain.

Howard Bryman from Daily Coffee News has written two excellent articles on ‘Cryptocurrency and Blockchain in Coffee’. Part 1 focuses on ‘Retail’ and explores how some companies in the coffee industry  from coffee equipment manufacturers to coffee retailers have been adopting cryptocurrencies , and how the blockchain works. Part 2 focuses on ‘Origin’, examining how blockchain and cryptocurrencies ae being adopted in the coffee global supply chain. As an introduction to coffee and cryptocurrencies I would highly suggest starting with these articles which not only provide examples of cryptocurrencies in the coffee industry, but an explanation of the concepts of block chain and cryptocurrencies and how they work more generally.

In the last few months I have noticed a rise in discussion of these issues in the coffee industry in particular from the use of coffee focused cryptocurrencies such as coffee coin, to how the blockchain concept is being integrated into the practices of companies such as Starbucks. I first heard of Coffee Coin in a podcast from Orange Cactus Coffee when they explained how they bought some coffee from Thailand with the cryptocurrency.

Coffee Coin is essentially a trading platform which is specifically for the specialty coffee industry, designed to make coffee more traceable. According to the Coffee Coin White Paper using Coffee Coin contributes to eliminating ‘many of the current economic, administrative and logistical inefficiencies in the specialty coffee trade, thereby increasing value and profits throughout the supply chain’. It explains how ‘CoffeeCoin works as a “single currency” for rapid global transactions – which ‘removes issues and loss of value in the global specialty coffee supply chain due to the current use of multiple currencies and exchange fees.’

Coffee Coin can be used for different elements of the coffee supply chain – from contracts, quotes, shipment tracking, the administrative side of the industry, to a platform for farmers and roasters to crowdfund sales and purchases of specialty coffee lots, reducing the need for intermediaries in the supply chain. In principle ‘small-batch roasters will now have access to micro-lots of specialty-grade beans more directly from those willing to offer them. This opens up the door to thousands of boutique roasters who previously had limited access to smaller volumes of specialty grade beans. It also offers coffee farmers and cooperatives more opportunities to sell their best beans at a higher premium.’

Other companies have sought to establish how the blockchain has the potential to alter the supply chain in coffee. The Cofe project has produced a White Paper to explain their approach which ‘aims to solve the broken, inefficient coffee supply chain by being the first successful and scalable implementation of the blockchain as a solution’.  Largely it suggests that these inefficiencies can be reduced by removing the middle men in the coffee supply chain to create a system based on fair trade. The report suggests there are ‘often around 15 intermediaries between the farmer and the consumer, each of whom takes their own profit and does so by pursing the cost of the entity before them down’ which leads to the farmer suffering the most.  For those involved in the Cofe project, the ‘Solution involves implementing an online market place to connect farmers, roasteries and consumers so that direct and transparent transactions between these parties can take place. In this system, transactions will be recorded on the blochain via the Cofe Token (COFE).

‘The Cofe (COFE) token will provide a native and universal method of payment within the Cofe network, the online marketplace and any CofeHouses. The use of the COFE token will allow for trackable transactions to take place between all parties using themarketplace, and, to increase demand and usage, discounts will be given for purchases made with COFE at CofeHouses.’

The Cofe project aims to provide a better, more efficient alternative to the current system with the The Cofe marketplace will operate as a means for connecting consumers with farmers and roasteries:

‘This marketplace will allow truly fair-trade transactions between consumers and farmers and will make use of under utilised capacity in independent coffeehouses close to the consumer to replace many of the activities of the current supply chain. … All transactions made on this marketplace will be recorded on the blockchain to ensure trackability and traceability. Therefore, the solution that the Cofe project proposes is more flexible than the existing supply chain, allows coffee to be tracked to source, and produces a measurably better product.’ 

In a recent episode from the BBC’s the Food Chain, the use of blockchain in the coffee industry is used as an example of how the blockchain technology is being adopted to try and establish a fairer and more transparent food system.  It highlights how the Dutch company Moyee Coffee has teamed up with  Bext360, a US based tech start up, to try and create Blockchain traceable coffees, using the blockchain system. This technology allows traceability of the coffee from a specific micro lot all the way to the roasters and retailers.

‘Moyee coffee takes transparency to the next level. Since 2017 theFairChain farmers have been paid through Blockchain, unique in the coffee industry. Every piece of data of data in the coffee chain, from harvest to payment, is stored digitally in the blockchain. Transparent for everyone. This data is lock by a cryptographic key. In other words, the data can not be tampered with, resulting in a fair and complete registration on the chain. (Moyee Coffee, 2017)

This is designed to create a direct relationship between the farmer and the consumer.

It’s not just start-ups that are entering into the world of blockchain, the global coffee giant Starbucks too has taken notice of the potential application for its own operations. In March 2018 it announced that it was going to launch a pilot programme to establish traceability on some of its beans using ‘traceability technology’ (i.e. blockchain) as part of its efforts to ensure it has an ‘ethical’ coffee supply chain’. The director of traceability at Starbucks, Arthur Karuletwa argues that ‘traceability technology could have profound implications for connecting coffee drinkers to the farmers who grow it, and that there is the potential for this technology to create an “authentic, seamless, dynamic” one-to-one connection between farmers acros theg globe and someone drinking coffee at, say, a Starbucks in Seattle or Shanghai.

At the consumer end of the supply chain too, the use of cryptocurrencies has been appearing.  Dedicated cryptocurrency cafés,  have opened in a number of cities: Bitcoin Coffee in Prague or Ducatus Café in Singapore are twoexampls. Then there are increasing numbers of coffee shops that wil ccept bitcoin as payment, even in the UK. While the use of cryptocurrencies on te high street is by no mans manstream more examples are apearig, indicative of a rising awareness and use o cryptocurrencies in the modern economy.

Clearly blockchain and cryptocurrencies have the potential to be utilised in the coffee industry, but questions remain about how possible it is to scale up some of these initiatives and really have an impact on the global coffee supply chain, and about how feasible it is for cryptocurrencies to be used for day to day transactions? It will be interesting to see how these companies and initiative develop, and the extent to which cryptocurrencies and blockchain become a component of the global coffee industry.





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Rise of the reusables: steps towards sustainability in coffee cup use

It is estimated that around 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are thrown away in the UK, or around 5,000 every minute. In 2017 the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee launched an inquiry to explore the scale of the issue publishing a series of recommendations that would encourage behaviours to reduce, reuse and recycle. This included a proposal to ban disposable cups by 2023, and a so-called latte levy, a 25p charge for using a disposable cup that would mirror the carrier bag tax in order to encourage more people to carry a reusable cup. The government response suggested that no such levy would be introduced as businesses in the industry were already making efforts to try and reduce disposable cups through collaborations such as the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group. It also highlighted that a target of 100% for recycling cups was not realistic, and there were already many reusable cups on offer, often with financial incentives in place from businesses. The government highlighted that it recognised the need to address issues of waste and litter and would do so as part of its 25 Year Environment Plan and Resources & Waste Strategy, but that it would be important to consider the packaging producer responsibility system and waste management system as a whole ‘in order to drive the best environmental outcomes’, rather than focus on coffee cups which are estimated to be around 0.7% of paper packaging waste in the UK.

The prospect of a latte levy triggered much discussion in the media about the advantages and disadvantages of reusable coffee cups, the range of alternatives to disposable cups on offer, and the various businesses that were already providing incentives to make the switch to a reusable cup. While some of the larger coffee shops chains such as Costa Coffee introduced a 25p discount for using a reusable cup (as well as a nationwide cup recycling scheme), it was Pret A Manger that attracted significant attention for introducing a 50p discount for consumers with a reusable cup, after their CEO turned to social media to ask consumers what would encourage them to carry a reusable cup. This made their takeaway filter coffee just 49p – an attractive prospect for many consumers who have become accustomed to their coffee on the go. Many of the reusable cup companies witnessed a surge in interest with the prospect of a ‘latte levy’ being introduced, and many coffee shops witnessed a rise in use of reusable cups – although several businesses suggested this may trail off as media interest reduced over time. Research conducted by Dr Jennifer Ferreira at Coventry University has suggested that many consumers are more resistant to switching to reusable cups than they were carrier bags because of the perceived inconvenience of having to carry a dirty cup around afterwards; a current research project seeks to explore behaviours around the use of reusable cups more extensively.

Despite the prospect of a ‘latte levy’ being quelled, many businesses have sought to make efforts to reduce disposable packaging, and to shift consumer behaviours. In February, Starbucks trialled a 5p charge for a disposable cup in some of its London stores. At the beginning of April, Waitrose, the supermarket chain known for its free coffee for customers who are members of its loyalty scheme, announced it will be removing all disposable cups by autumn 2018. Instead customers must use their own reusable cup, and in doing so could save more than 52 million cups a year.  The head of sustainability and responsible sourcing at Waitrose said that ‘we realise this is a major change, but we believe removing all takeaway disposable cups is the right thing to do for our business and are confident the majority of customers will support the environmental benefits.’ According to the BBC, Starbucks commissioned research has suggested that around 48% of consumers would consider using a reusable cup. Businesses have recognised that they need to be making efforts in sustainability, not only to reach their own environmental targets, but in order to be seen to be making progress in this area to consumers, many of whom have a growing environmental awareness.

The rise in popularity of reusable cups (and more sustainable packaging options), was evident at the recent London Coffee Festival where a range of different reusable cups were on offer – KeepCup, Sol Cup, Ecoffee Cup, rCUP, Huskup and others had their own exhibits, and many coffee roasters had their own branded reusable cups too. This is in addition to other alternative packaging solutions such as biodegradable and recyclable packaging that could potentially reduce coffee cup waste reaching landfill. Collectively there was a growing presence of the issue of sustainability and waste in the coffee shop industry at this event which targeted both industry and consumers.

Likewise other coffee festivals have been making moves to address the coffee cup waste issue. The Glasgow Coffee Festival, citing its interest in taking an ethical stance, has announced that its 2018 event will not be using disposable cups, but instead consumers can either bring their own reusable cup, or borrow a KeepCup on the day.

The desire from businesses to consumers to increase reusable cups has been recognised by other organisations too. A new reusable packaging scheme, Cup Club has been launched in London in April, where trackable cups and can be dropped off at various points, to be washed and reused, meaning consumers do not have to carry the reusable cup around.

In other countries, reusable cup sharing schemes have been introduced, albeit not with the level of technology to track their use as in CupClub. In Germany, the Freiburg Cup has been in use since 2016; consumers get a reusable cup for €1 and can return it to a number of participating stores for washing and reusing (and the deposit is returned). A similar scheme Re-Cup operates across a number of German cities. The use of reusable coffee cups, and other efforts in sustainability from the coffee shop industry in the UK and Germany is the focus of a current research project in the Centre for Business in Society. The project  ‘From the grounds up: the coffee shop industry and the circular economy’ seeks to explore the extent the circular economy is evident in the coffee shop industry, the ways that businesses and consumers in the coffee shop industry engage in the circular economy, and the enablers and inhibitors for doing so.

As the government highlighted in its response to the coffee cup inquiry, the issue of waste management is much broader than coffee cups, and businesses have been making adjustments to try and indicate they are making efforts in other areas too. It’s estimated that 8.5 billion plastic straws are used in the UK every year, and there have been suggestions that these could be banned in the future. Coffee shops including Costa Coffee and Pret A Manager have suggested they will introduce alternatives to plastic straws in the future, while business such as Wetherspoons, Pizza Express and Wagamama have introduced biodegradable straws. Whether regulations are introduced or not around the area of waste management for retailers such as these, it has been made clear that businesses need to make substantial efforts in reducing the amount of waste reaching landfill, and minimising their environmental footprint. The coffee shop industry has been making various efforts to address these issues, from encouraging greater reusable coffee cup use, to innovations in the use of coffee grounds to produce energy. Combined efforts from the coffee shop industry and its consumers have the potential to have a significant impact on the amount of waste and resources used, and the environmental impact the industry has today, and in the future.


BBC News (2018) ‘Starbucks in ‘latte levy’ London trial on disposable cups’. BBC News 25/02/18. Available at:

BBC New (2018) ‘Waitrose to stop using disposable coffee cups’, BBC News 10/04/18. Available at:

House of Commons (2018) Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups. Second Report of Session 2017-19 House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. Available at:

House of Commons (2018) Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups: Government’s Response to the Committee’s Second Report. House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. Available at:

BBC News (2018) ‘Plastic straws: which companies are banning them?’ BBC News 28/03/18. Available at:

Independent (2018) Pret A Manger customers to get 50p discount if they bring their own mugs. Independent 2 /01/18. Available at:

This blog post will also appear on the Coventry University Research blog

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