EMU’s carrot and stick approach slashes paper coffee cup usage
The goal was to eliminate waste – 5,000 paper coffee cups in the academic year. It took less than a month for the Fifty for Five Thousand campaign in the University of Oregon’s Erb Memorial Union to succeed.
The UO’s EMU Food Services, EMU Marketing and Campus Recycling conducted their Fifty for Five Thousand contest this spring to reduce coffee cup waste at the EMU’s Fishbowl, Union Market and The Buzz. The contest generated more than 70 suggestions that ranged from eliminating the option of paper cups to monthly prizes for coffee buyers who supplied their own cups.
The winning entry – from Ariana White, a medical lab technologist at the University Health Center – takes a carrot-and-stick approach. It imposes a 50-cent surcharge on those who buy their drinks in paper cups, and offers a 50-cent discount to those who bring reusable cups.
“Apparently we hit a sweet spot because by Day Two of the initiative we saw a tremendous jump in mug usage,” said Allen Faigin, director of EMU food services.
The 50-cent discount/surcharge went into effect on April 26, and the campaign’s initial goal was achieved by May 17.
“We could only project how long it was going to take to reach the goal of 5,000 hot beverage paper cups saved,” Faigin said. “We guessed sometime over the summer, perhaps even as long as during fall term.”
White said the idea she entered in the contest was a result of observing Europeans’ responses to transportation issues. Cars and gasoline are expensive, while shared transportation is cheap and easy to use; as a result, private driving, gasoline usage and traffic problems are reduced.
“So if coffee and a paper cup are really expensive, I thought, and the combination of coffee and a reusable cup was significantly cheaper … that combination might be enough to shift people out of their habits and into new ones – with the hoped-for result being that a lot more people would use reusable mugs,” White said.
“I’m so pleased that it only took three weeks to meet the 5,000-cup goal,” she said. “At that rate, it should be possible to save at least 50,000 cups in a year!
“It makes me wonder how many other little things are waiting out there to be done that could save resources and ease the pressure on the planet – maybe people just need to look for them more.”
The EMU is now serving about half of its hot beverages in reusable mugs and half in disposable cups. Faigin said the industry average for mug usage is about 4 percent.
The EMU will keep its current pricing structure through spring term, then it will be revisited to determine how to best maintain a trend toward sustainability while continuing to raise money for sustainable projects. The surcharge/discount formula is currently breaking even, Faigin said.
Half of the 50-cent surcharge now goes to cover the cost of paper cups, while the other half goes into a sustainability fund for projects at the EMU. One of the first projects will be an herb and vegetable garden near the EMU.
A team of staff and students chose White’s suggestion as the contest winner, and gave an honorable mention to Jessica Jorgensen – an undergraduate majoring in journalism and public relations – for her idea of a sign that graphically depicted progress toward the goal of saving 5,000 cups.