Putting Litter First: December

Between wrapping things up at work before the holidays, shopping for Christmas itself, or just trying to juggle everything that life throws at us, I know that everyone is very busy at the moment. This is why December’s Putting Litter First blog post is going to be short, sweet, and hyper-focused on a very specific type of litter: disposable coffee cups.

After all, it’s this time of year when regular litter pickers begin to find holiday rubbish: the usual branded cups get a festive facelift, with Santa Claus, Christmas trees, snowmen, and reindeer featuring prominently, usually in various shades of red, green, or blue.*

Back in 2016, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste highlighted the problem with disposable cups: over TWO BILLION are binned every year in the UK (that’s approximately seven million every day), and the overwhelming majority cannot be recycled. Things have improved a little since then, but the fact remains that we as a society are regularly producing and binning this particular product at an incredibly destructive rate. On top of this, a significant number of these cups end up as litter in our neighbourhoods and along our roadways.

Encouraging people to bring a reusable cup is obviously the easiest way to avoid both the amount of waste produced and the associated litter. The Shrewsbury Cup is one model it would be great to see more communities adopt: customers pay a £1.00 deposit at participating venues for a reusable cup, and then return it to any participating venue to get their £1.00 back.

Livvy Drake’s recent series of workshops also reminded me of a few things I think are worth highlighting when it comes to bringing about change.

First, people are primed to be loss averse. This means that we are more likely to try to avoid the loss of our existing money versus trying to gain cash of a similar value. On a practical level, this translates to charging more for using a disposable cup. Personally, I’d like to see a three-charge system trialled: a flat rate for dining in using the café’s reusable cup, a charge for a takeaway disposable cup, and a discount for the customer’s reusable cup. This serves to both reward those who already reuse their cup and hit the pocketbook of those who don’t.

Second, the use of names—spelled correctly—on disposable cups has been shown to help reduce littering because the cup is now linked to the user’s identity. Could more cafés follow Starbucks’ lead and write their customers’ names on the cups, using the proper spelling if at all possible?

So, how does this help us put litter first?

The goal of this series is to look at what we can personally do within our communities to bring about change. Are you in a position to see how something like the Shrewsbury Cup could be implemented within your own community, perhaps piggy-backing on a local refill programme? That’s a ticket straight to the Nice List!

Or how can we help the people in our community avoid being naughty? Do you or someone you know work at a place where drinks are served in disposable cups – what are your/their thoughts about how to make genuine, lasting changes to encourage reusables or proper rubbish disposal?

While pondering these questions—and others posed throughout the Putting Litter First series—let’s raise a glass to a cleaner 2022!


The year-long series Putting Litter First (so we can see the end of it!) is about trying to find a middle ground when it comes stopping litter in our communities. Often, it seems like there’s a false choice presented: those who are working to stop litter can either run a litter pick or they can lobby government for higher fines or for programmes like the Deposit Return Scheme.

The problem with this dichotomy is that most of us are already doing the first bit. We’ve been picking up litter from Chippenham for six years without a noticeable decrease in the amount of rubbish found. On the other hand, waiting for the government to get its act together with higher fines, sensible enforcement, and a proper Deposit Return Scheme feels like an exercise in futility. We can (and we should) campaign for these changes, but, at the same time, we must recognise that the outcome is outside of our control.

Instead, I think there are things that can be done at the community level if enough people are willing to step forward to help make it happen. A big part of this involves making sure that the right people are aware of what tools are available and not re-inventing the wheel. Interested in learning more? Sign up to have the latest Putting Litter First blog post delivered to you on the first of every month.