Bristol Refill Cup Scheme

Reducing the amount of single-use cups entering Bristol’s waste stream
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Accelerating the shift towards reuseable cups

The final project funded by the Ecosurety Exploration Fund, Bristol Refill Cup Scheme, enables consumers to use refillable cups when they are away from home. Led by environmental charity City to Sea, the city-wide reusable ‘returnable’ cup scheme enables consumers to ‘borrow’ a reusable takeaway cup from a participating café and then return it so it can be reused.

Billions of preventable single-use items

An estimated 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups (30,000 tonnes) are used and thrown away each year in the UK, with 99% currently not recycled. The scale of the problem is breath-taking. In recent years it has fast become a high-priority issue for consumers, traders, councils and governments when seeking to reduce our impact on the planet, but any meaningful change has been slow.

Confusion and contamination

Recycling attempts and substitution with biodegradables have led to consumer confusion and contamination of collected materials.

They have also failed to significantly reduce carbon impact and the volumes of waste going to landfill, incineration or the open environment.


Barriers to reuse

Recycling is never the best solution when we could be enabling consumers to reuse instead. A significant barrier to reuse, however, is that reusable cups and containers are easy to forget when leaving home and can be a hassle to carry all day when out and about.

What we don’t need are more barriers.

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Significant consumers’ concern about sustainability

Research published in June by City to Sea suggests that sustainability is falling down the priority list for consumers due to the cost-of-living crisis. The research was undertaken on 25 May with 2009 UK citizens. Consumers are finding it harder to make sustainable purchasing decisions and avoid single-use plastic, despite this still being a big concern for 95% of people surveyed. Almost two thirds of those surveyed (63%) said they felt frustrated (31%), powerless (21%) or angry (11%) about the amount of plastic that comes with their weekly shop; with almost another quarter feeling sad (13%) or worried (11%).
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Scheme enabling retailers to subscribe

The Bristol Refill Cup Scheme enables retailers to subscribe to the scheme and order reusable cups at a low-cost subscription basis. Customers who come in for a coffee will be given the option to have their coffee in a single-use cup or a reusable cup - with the environmental benefits communicated to them.

Using City to Sea Refill app

Retailers can use the Refill app to scan a QR code on the cup to transfer the ownership of the cup to the customer. Customers can then use the app to manage the cup and to check for notifications of when and where to return the cup. When the cup is returned to participating retailers, it will be scanned back in, washed, and reused.

The award-winning Refill app helps conscious consumers to find numerous locations to eat, drink and shop with less plastic, providing them with a global network of places to reduce, reuse and refill.

Download the returnable cup guide

'The future is returnable – taking a circular approach to hot drinks’ report was published in November 2023 and provides a blueprint for any organisation looking to provide an alternative solution to disposable, single-use take-away coffee cups and explore circular, returnable systems. The report shares insights from more than 20 industry experts, reuse brands and business, including expertise from Ecosurety’s Policy Manager, Louisa Goodfellow.
Download the free guide
“We can’t keep going as we are with park bins overflowing and our Harbourside littered with floating single-use coffee cups. We need to do things differently. And after years of research we are really delighted to be launching our Refill Return Cup that completely eliminates the need to carry a reusable cup with you. Instead, you can pick one of our reusable cups up anywhere in the city and then drop it off at any participating coffee shop. These will all be mapped on the award-winning Refill app.” Jane Martin Photo Jane Martin Head of Development

About City to Sea

City to Sea is an environmental not-for-profit, campaigning to stop plastic pollution at source. Their award-winning campaigns are tackling the single-use plastic items most found on our beaches and in our rivers and oceans by providing practical, solutions-focused initiatives and championing reuse over single-use. By working with communities, businesses, and retailers they’re inspiring and empowering everyone to tackle plastic pollution. They believe collective action is key to lasting behaviour change and encourage everyone to rethink, refuse, reduce and reuse across all of their campaigns. City to Sea is behind the award-winning Refill Campaign, which has saved 100 million plastic bottles from entering our waste stream, #SwitchTheStick, #PlasticFreePeriods and even more planet-protecting, behaviour change campaigns.
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Enabling tomorrow's solutions

The Bristol Refill Cup Scheme has been funded by the Ecosurety Exploration Fund which is investing £1million in projects that aim to reduce the environmental impact of packaging, batteries or WEEE through innovation or research in the UK. The fund is the first such opportunity to be launched by a UK compliance scheme. It builds on Ecosurety’s experience in supporting innovative projects and new technologies across the waste and recycling sector.
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