UK Supermarket to Eliminate All To-Go Coffee Cups From Stores

Video screen capture. Waitrose

It would have been nice to know this when I lived in England, but British supermarket Waitrose has long been offering free in-store coffee for its loyalty card customers. While that makes for a nice gesture in terms of customer relations, however, it also generates a lot of unnecessary waste. So as activists urge Starbucks to hurry up with cup recycling, one might also expect brands like Waitrose to seek to get ahead of the game with their own recyclable cups.

Not so, however. Waitrose is going one better. By the Fall of 2018, Waitrose will eliminate all single use, disposable coffee cups from its stores. Here's how they explain what's going down:

We have committed to removing all takeaway disposable coffee cups from our shops by autumn 2018. As myWaitrose members you will continue to have the option to enjoy a free tea or coffee from your shop’s self-serve machine as a thank you for shopping with us. But in the coming weeks we will be asking you to bring in your own reusable cup, rather than being offered a disposable coffee cup when you go through the checkout.
The cups will initially be removed in nine test branches only, starting this month. But this appears not to be a trial run—the company has already committed to the removal—but rather an experiment to figure out how best to manage the process with minimal disruption to customers. It's a pretty cool move. And given that this is a free perk, rather than a service that customers are directly paying for, I think it has the potential to reach a broader cross section of the public and start promoting reusability as a sensible lifestyle choice all round. After all, once a customer has a Waitrose coffee cup, who's to say they won't use it at Starbucks too.

Of course, the ultimate solution to single-use plastics is either to ban them, or tax them so punitively that the cost becomes prohibitive. After all, we're all paying the cost in terms of environmental degradation, so why not shift that payment to the source of the problem?

But still, institutional moves like this are making a real difference—both in the amount of plastic being consumed, and in the broader cultural debate about what is and isn't acceptable as a society.

And for that, I think we can thank Waitrose heartily.