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Imagine borrowing a cup from the business selling you your favourite hot drink. Imagine being able to enjoy the product, go about your day, and then return the cup to the same or another location to be washed, and lent to someone else. Imagine the journey that cup may have. Imagine.
We did. We imagined an innovative new reusable cup scheme, developed in partnership with local businesses selling takeaway drinks. And, that vision is now alive. In April we launched Cup Movement® in the Highlands – a pilot scheme making it easier for people to choose a reusable cup.
As a country we face massive challenges. There is a twin climate and nature crisis, and we recently declared a litter emergency. Buying and using too much – our unsustainable consumption - is one of the primary drivers of the challenges we face. What we consume accounts for 80% of Scotland’s carbon footprint and single-use cups have become a bit of a poster child for our disposable habits. We need solutions to help tackle this that create a more circular economy where resources and materials are reused, repurposed or recycled rather than being used only once.
Around 200 million single-use cups are used and discarded each year in Scotland. Only 4% of these are recycled. Yet we know from our research that 90% of people are concerned about the environmental impact of takeaway cups being littered, and 81% want businesses to do more to make it easier to choose a reusable cup.
Over the past five years we have been at the forefront of action to tackle the issues associated with single-use cups, including through Cup Movement® in Glasgow, where we worked with key private and public sector partners to encourage people to #TakeItBack and have cups recycled, resulting in half a million cups being diverted from landfill. Based on learning from this, and other interventions, our vision and ambition to trial a reuse scheme at scale, in a more rural setting, one where collaboration and community spirit thrives, developed.
Engaging with and listening to businesses, those providing employment in an area where tourism and hospitality are vital to the local economy, has been crucial to establishing the scheme. As has the partnership that we have developed with North Coast 500, Zero Waste Scotland, and Highland Good Food Partnership. We recognise that only through collaboration and support will the scheme be as success for everyone and importantly locals and visitors alike.
An important part of achieving a circular economy is eliminating unnecessary single-use items and we’ve actively campaigned and advocated for a reduction. While we celebrated the introduction of the single-use plastics ban in Scotland and are part of the Scottish Government’s Single Use Disposable Cup Charge Advisory Group we are well aware that any future mandatory requirements or proposed ‘latte levy’ aimed at encouraging recycling or reduction of single-use cups are a way off yet.
For us inspiring action now, ahead of policy and legislative changes, is essential. The convenience of single-use cups often wins over reusable options coming at a cost, to our environment, and also for those businesses selling takeaway drinks.
Just like borrowing a book from a library, customers can now borrow a cup from one of 25 trailblazing businesses near the NC500, no deposits required. The scheme uses innovative App technology from cup system suppliers Vytal – Europe’s largest digital system working to make reusable the new standard.
The pilot is exactly that. A pilot. There will be challenges but we know valuable insights will be captured and we hope that our learning will create opportunities for future reusable packaging schemes to flow across Scotland.
So, if you are in the Highlands this summer download the Vytal app, visit one of the pioneering businesses prepared to trial the scheme, and give a reusable cup a ‘double shot’!
*First published in the Scotsman on 11 May 2023