Encouraging Use of Reusable Coffee Cups and Reducing Single Use Disposable Coffee Cups

In 2016, Recycling Advocates kicked off a campaign focused on reducing the number of disposable, single use coffee cups going into area landfills. I helped kick off and lead the campaign for 5 years as President of the Oregon-based nonprofit organization (now called Waste-Free Advocates). After COVID-19 struck, the campaign lost momentum when reusable cups were not allowed in coffee shops.

I wanted to save the content from our campaign page, so below are key articles and content from the campaign.

Our campaign slogan is “BYOC!” which stands for Bring Your Own Cup. This campaign will be a multi-year initiative for us, until we create a change in behavior within the Portland metro region, where disposable coffee cups are no longer the standard method for drinking coffee.

Why did we select this campaign?

  1. Portlanders LOVE their coffee!
  2. Disposable coffee cups are NOT recyclable!
  3. EACH disposable coffee cup is responsible for 0.24 lbs of carbon (C02) greenhouse gas emissions
  4. The environmental IMPACT of disposable coffee cups is enormous!

Did you know?

  • Paper cups are not recyclable because of the plastic liner and coffee contamination. 
  • Garbage haulers do not accept plastic lids in curbside recycling bins.
  • Cardboard sleeves can be recycled and reused, but often are not.   
  • The vast majority of disposable cups and lids sold at coffee shops eventually arrive at the landfill.  
  • You can bring your own reusable coffee cup and give it to the barista to fill up your coffee (both hot and cold). Learn more about the laws around reusable containers >>>
  • Only 1-2% of Starbucks customers bring their own cup, even with a 10 cent discount incentive.3
  • Starbucks estimated the cost of disposable packaging (coffee cup, lid, and insulating sleeve) at 15 cents back in 2000.1

How big is this problem?

  • If an individual purchases a disposable cup every day, this creates about 23 pounds of waste per year.
  • According to a study by Starbucks, each paper cup manufactured is responsible for 0.24 pounds of CO2 emissions.1
  • Recycling Advocates estimates that 50 MILLION disposable coffee cups are used in the Metro area per year.  This equates to 3 MILLION pounds of solid waste being generated and 6,000 metric tons of CO2 being generated.  This is equivalent to almost 600,000 gallons of gas consumed, or 6 million pounds of coal burned for one year.2

What can you do to help our campaign?

  • Volunteer to table at an event, to educate consumers about the lack of recycling options, and the magnitude of the problem
  • Promote our campaign to your friends and family through social media using “#BYOC” or through word of mouth.
  • Encourage your local coffee shop to get involved with our campaign by incentivizing or encouraging their customers to avoid disposable coffee cups.
  • Bring your own cup, or use a reusable mug in the store when you go to a coffee shop. Check out other Portland residents who already bring their own cup!
  • Live or work in Portland? Check out the “Reduce, Reuse, Recaffeinate Plus” punch card program conducted every April to win prizes for bringing your own cup or bottle, reusing your bags, or having a waste-free lunch!

What are we encouraging coffee shops to do to support this campaign?

  • Offer an incentive for customers who bring their own reusable cup.
  • Offer reusable cups for dining in.
    • If reusable cups are available, ask customers if they want their coffee “for here or to go”
      • Use of reusables increased from an average of 18% to 57% during the pilot test when customers were asked this question.1
  • Place a reminder sign where customers order or near the entrance, to remind them to bring their reusable cup.
  • Sell reusable cups in your store, to make it easy for customers to obtain reusable cups if they don’t own one.
  • Provide educational materials and information about disposable cups to customers
    • Examples include table tents, email to newsletters, posts to social media, signs and posters on the wall, allow our handouts and materials to be displayed in the shop, etc.

Why don’t we focus on Starbucks, since they are so large?

Starbucks has actually done quite a few things to improve their impact on the environment. They offer in-store cups for use (when you ask), sell reusable cups, and offer a 10 cent discount when you bring your own. However, I think this statement from their website summarizes the need for individuals to drive this campaign through their behavior change. Update in 2022: Starbucks is planning to phase out its iconic cups

We will continue to explore new ways to reduce our cup waste but ultimately it will be our customers who control whether or not we achieve continued growth in the number of beverages served in reusable cups.

Starbucks website

In 2019, GO Box launched a new reusable coffee cup program in Portland! Check them out at Nossa Familia and New Seasons!

Listen to the presentation from Nossa Familia about charging customers for to-go coffee cups! [Read full transcript]

Help spread the word! Post signs at your work break areas and cafeterias

Campaign alignment with other larger initiatives

Related Videos




Related Articles and Websites

Alternative Options for Disposable Coffee Cups

A project to help eliminate paper cup waste in London – A new, chai wallah-inspired project, Cup Club, which aims to reduce the amount of waste caused by disposable coffee cups in London.


Turning powerful stats into art – Artist Chris Jordan shows us an arresting view of what Western culture looks like. His supersized images picture some almost unimaginable statistics — like the astonishing number of paper cups we use every single day.


The World’s First Plantable Coffee Cup

Do other cities have coffee cup recycling options?

+ Seattle

  • All food service businesses in Seattle using compostable or recyclable service products for food consumed on the premises are required to provide bins for proper collection of these materials.
  • Cedar Grove Commercially Acceptable Compostable Items – Coffee cups, sleeves and lids

+ San Francisco

+ Vancouver

1 http://business.edf.org/files/2014/03/starbucks-report-april2000.pdf

2 http://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator

3 http://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/global-report 

Disposable coffee cup image created from photo at https://conversation.which.co.uk/food-drink/recycling-disposable-coffee-cups-starbucks/

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