Starbucks has announced it will be introducing a self-imposed 5p ‘Latte Levy’ on disposable coffee cups in 35 of its London stores for a three month period. The proceeds will be donated to Hubbub and used to explore ways to encourage more people to use reusable cups and to promote the circular economy.

Polling undertaken by Starbucks has suggested that a 5p levy would encourage 48% of people to bring a reusable cup. This is significantly higher than the 1.8% of people who are persuaded to bring their own reusable cup when a 25p price reduction is offered. Polling results are notoriously unreliable for assessing behaviour change as there is a ‘value-action’ gap between what people say they will do and what they actually do.

Hubbub’s research, which will be openly shared when completed, will seek to get a deeper insight into what is really driving existing behaviours and what opportunities exist to encourage people to adopt new routines and habits. Specifically the research we will seek to discover:

1) Does a tax or levy have more of an impact than a discount?

A small study at Cardiff University discovered that whilst a discount did not make any difference for reusable cup sales, a charge increased the use of reusable coffee cups by 3.4%. This seems to suggest that people are more loss averse, preferring to avoid penalties rather than receiving equivalent discounts. Does this mean the public will be more likely to respond to a cup charge rather than money off?

2) Does 5p make a difference to behaviour - if not how much would?

The relatively small charge of 5p saw a significant shift in consumer behaviour on plastic carrier bags, with the number being used plummeting by more than 85%. Will a similar amount change consumer thinking on coffee cups and, if not, how much would be needed to make a difference? The plastic bag charge took the cost of a bag from zero to 5p which was obviously quite a jolt whereas people are used to paying variable amounts for the coffee of their choice. How price sensitive is their decision-making?

3) Can you compare a Latte Levy to the Plastic Carrier Bag Charge?

The highly successful 5p plastic carrier bag charge is cited as providing evidence that a similar charge would work on coffee cups. Is this the case? In preliminary customer conversations, it is apparent that there are a number of different factors at play. Most reusable cups are bulky to carry and some people are put off by carrying a dirty cup around with them. For some people buying a coffee is a spontaneous decision and they do not have a reusable cup with them. Hygiene has also been raised as a concern.

4) What incentives or nudge techniques might increase reusable cup use?

Initial conversations indicate that there are a range of factors that are leading to people choosing disposable coffee cups. In addition to financial incentives are there any other techniques that can be used to change behaviour? This might include stronger messaging in-store, a wider educational campaign in local communities or even offering broader community benefits if reuse targets are hit.

Encouraging people to bring reusable cups sounds simple on the surface but it is already clear that there are a wide of factors at play and we hope that this research will bring some of these to the surface.