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Cups hitting the ground: what we learned at TRNSMT Festival

A blog post by Georgina Massouraki

We recently had the opportunity to take our Cup Movement to the 120,000-strong audiences at TRNSMT Festival. What a debut! This was the first time we’ve hit the ground with this campaign, getting out to speak to people directly and, crucially, hear their thoughts.


Cup Movement is a relatively new campaign, and, in the six months since it launched, work has focused primarily on the practical side of things: building membership, setting up our new cup recycling scheme and planning other behaviour change interventions.

These practical elements are common to any campaign that we run. We know that it’s not enough to tell people what to do, we need to also work to make it easy, accessible and practical for them to do it. However, Cup Movement is interesting in that there is still work to be done in order to make it possible in the first place, for people to do the right thing. 

And this fact was brought into focus when speaking to people at TRNSMT.

Our campaign ‘behavioural outcomes’ define the behaviours we want to see more of as a result of the campaign, underpinning our ‘calls-to-action’ for individual ‘cup-users'.

Bin it

'If using a single-use cup', we say, 'you should recycle it'. Yet cup recycling is not yet widely available beyond our Simply Cups recycling scheme and a handful of pioneering businesses.

'The most sustainable choice', we say, 'is to reuse'. But even reusable cups are not always a workable option or even accepted, let alone incentivised by some retailers.

Although, these issues are exactly what we are working to address, it can make it hard to talk about Cup Movement to a fresh audience.

But, faced with the opportunity to engage thousands of people in the Glasgow area with the Cup Movement ethos of ‘Let’s reduce cup waste', we thought: is discussing these barriers not a valuable conversation in itself?

Recycling cups

One of the barriers to recycling cups is that they are, well, not widely recyclable. Paper cups have a plastic waterproof lining that must be separated out in a special process. What we found, however, is that not a lot of people know this.

Of over a hundred people we surveyed, only 19% knew that paper cups must be collected and recycled separately. Hopefully, we were able to change this with our cup recycling display, where people couldseparate the plastic lining out of paper cups, plunge their hands into the plastic pellets and shredded paper products of the cup recycling process and marvel at the reusable rCups that are made from this recyclate

Interestingly, 68% of those surveyed also indicated that they are willing to recycle their cups, if facilities are available, by reporting that they put their single-use cups in paper or mixed recycling. This is encouraging and signals hope for our cup recycling scheme

Choose to reuse

If we're talking about waste reduction, we have to consider the waste hierarchy and the fact that the best way to achieve this is to refuse or reuse.

But one thing that became clear when talking to people about reusables is that a lot of people have no idea what is meant when we talk about reusable cups - often interpreting this to include reusable bottles or even home crockery.

This is a helpful insight for our future surveying work and equally for our current understanding of the landscape against which we are campaigning.

Confusion notwithstanding, over half of the people we spoke to reported owning a reusable cup (loosely defined) but only a third of them used it regularly

We've got some work to do to make reusable cups a more mainstream concept, as well as looking at practical ways to support people to use them more regularly.

That said, our rCup was very popular, generating a lot of interest and prompting a lot of conversations about recycling as well as reuse. As it is made from recycled cups, the rCup is helpful for talking about the waste hierarchy.

Taking the pledge

Ultimately, we found that we were able to have lots of informative conversations and were delighted that a good proportion of festival-goers were keen to engage with Cup Movement and pledge to do what they can to help reduce cup waste.

It's important to acknowledge and understand that everyone is at a different stage in their own personal sustainability journey. Even if it’s not always easy, getting people to want to do the right thing, as far as possible, is always something to be commended and celebrated.

Knowledge exchange: a cup deposit scheme

One of the highlights of TRNSMT was witnessing the festival’s own cup waste reduction initiatives first hand.

Not only have they banned all plastic cups from the site, but they implemented a cup deposit scheme for the paper cups sold at the bar. With a 10p deposit on each cup sold, festival-goers were incentivised to bring their cups back for recycling... and it worked!

From chatting to the team at one of the ‘cup refund centres’ - conveniently located right next to our stand - we learned that a lot of people were bringing cups back for recycling without wanting their deposit back.

And when chatting to festival-goers, we found that though only about half of them were aware of the cup-deposit scheme, when they learnt of it they were more than happy to go around picking up tens of cups from the ground in order to raise funds for their next pint. Busting litter AND recycling all in one go!

The world is made of different people with different priorities and values, which is why it's important to give due consideration to all angles when we're trying to find solutions that work. At the end of the day, this system was straightforward and doubtless saved thousands of paper cups from going to landfill.

This approach is a great example of the kind of intervention that we will be looking to document, build evidence for and share with our Cup Movement network, in order to create real change.

All in all, TRNSMT festival was a milestone for Cup Movement and we look forward to continuing to work with everyone who buys, sells and uses cups to find the best ways to reduce single-use cup waste.

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