Remediating hospital paper cup wastage - challenges and recommendations.

Robin Jones's picture

Remediating paper cup wastage in the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford – A summary 

The Oxford University Student Consultancy, on behalf of Medact Oxford, consulted with consumers and providers of hot beverages across the hospital site to evaluate the usage of disposable paper cups.

Most commercially used paper cups are made from mixed materials and are therefore not commonly recycled and with 10,000 non-recyclable cups used every 2 minutes in the UK the scale of the problem is immense. The lack of paper cup recycling has become a major sustainability issue within the hot beverage industry. An attempt has been made to address this with the introduction of The Paper Cup Manifesto but the report suggests that this has had limited impact in the JRH due to some consumers and vendors being unaware of the sustainability issues and paper cup usage remains high across the site.

The students focussed their investigation on both consumers and vendors. Information was gathered from surveys  completed by consumers and interviews with managers of the coffee outlets.

The consumer survey of 67 participants found that on average, participants use 2 cups for hot beverages per day, 1 of which was a disposable cup. The number of disposable cups used ranged from 0-7 per day, resulting in around 422 disposable cups used by the participants every week. More than half of respondents indicated a preference for using reusable cups either for environmental reasons or the more pleasant experience of drinking from a china cup. However, a key issue in consumer habits was that 46% of participants in the hospital prefer to have their hot beverage “to go” rather than at the provider which leads to high paper cup usage if people do not have their own reusable cups. 

Forty percent of participants stated that they preferred to use a disposable cup with the reasons given largely concerning convenience. This was especially important for staff members who would be unsure whether they would finish their coffee sitting down and a paper cup would allow for contingencies. Other reasons for preferring a disposable cup included safety (a disposable cup is more likely to have a fitted lid), hygiene concerns (both being in a hospital environment as well as the concerns of the cleanliness of the outlet), and never being offered a reusable cup. 

Attitudes towards personal reusable cups were positive but highlighted the enduring problem with reusables in that they would not always remember to bring it with them to the JRH. Twenty percent of participants suggested that if free travel mugs or incentives for bringing your own were provided then that would make them more likely to bring a reusable cup. The survey results indicate that if a charge for disposable cups or a reduction in price for bringing a personal reusable cup were to be introduced most of the participants would reduce their usage of the paper cups and just under half would stop using them completely. 

To understand the vendors’ perspectives site-managers from five commercial coffee vendors were interviewed. All the managers interviewed stated that staff were trained to ask customers if they were consuming their beverage on the premises or required a disposable cup. However, when observed by the investigators this policy was not always adhered to. Despite this policy which would be seen a positive move towards sustainability in the trust none of the managers were aware of The Paper Cup Manifesto. 

Of the commercial vendors interviewed, OnThree has the largest seating area yet does not provide customers with the option of using a reusable cup. The primary reason given for this was an insufficient capacity to wash reusable cups particularly during busy periods. Therefore the problem lies in the design of the facilities by the provider. On a positive note, the cups used by OnThree are actually compostable but there is no obvious signage nor dedicated bins available. Other issues raised by vendors included a high number of stolen mugs; convenience of till staff during busy periods; and safety aspects such as risk of spillages and breakages. 

The report also highlights that none of the vendors have any targeted advertising that raises the sustainability issues surrounding disposable cups. One finding that was particularly surprising was that two major high street chains did not advertise the same incentives for bringing a personal reusable cup that they offer outside the hospital. For instance, Costa Coffee offer a 25p reusable cup discount but this was not advertised on the JRH site.

The report highlights some key issues in the attitudes of customers and vendors that contribute to an exceptionally high usage of paper cups in the JRH. The report suggests that to enact significant long-term change in this practice it is vital to work alongside the JRH trust as they have the ability to introduce an across-the-board policy rather than targeting individual vendors. The survey of consumers found mostly positive attitudes towards the issues of unsustainable cup wastage and so the hospital population is likely to be receptive to organised interventions to reduce paper cup usage within the JRH. Such interventions might include an advertising campaign to raise awareness of the sustainability issues and the option to purchase personal reusable cups in the hospital. Finally, The Paper Cup Manifesto provides a ready-made tool for raising the issue of paper cup usage with all groups involved and is an excellent starting point for discussion if the trust, consumers, and vendors can be made aware of it. 


Remediating hospital paper cup wastage - challenges and recommen

Rebecca Gibbs's picture

Enormously valuable to have this available on the network as the 'go to' resource on this issue.  As you may know the CSH runs the Green Ward competition and whilst we're keen for teams to focus on a clinical project focusing on this kind of single use with, for e.g. water coolers is a common choice.  One day we'll have this kind of detail for every area! 


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