Bribes don’t work: how to get people to value reusable coffee cups

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

While people are searching for the solution to cafe waste so they can continue to enjoy their favourite beverage guilt-free, one researcher has said we shouldn’t try to bribe drinkers to try reusable coffee cups.

“This is not just a storm in a coffee cup,” says University of South Australia Associate Professor Sukhbir Sandhu, speaking on World Environment Day at the first Cosmos Science City free lunchtime science forum.

University of south australia associate professor sukhbir sandhu
University of South Australia Associate Professor Sukhbir Sandhu

“300 billion of them end up in landfill every year.”

To try to convince people to give up plastic cups in favour of reusable cups Sandhu’s team did some research and asked people how much of a discount cafés should provide to encourage people to bring their own cups.

The answers were surprising.

“We interviewed consumers, café owners and policy makers in South Australia, and unobtrusively observed customer behaviour in cafes for around 50 hours”, Sandhu says.

One finding became very clear: people mimic each other.

“Customers we interviewed told us over and over that watching their colleagues bring in their reusable coffee cups (such as a KeepCup) made them change their habits.”

Listen to an extract from Sandhu’s presentation at the Cosmos Science City event for full details.

And listen to this Cosmos podcast about coffee cups for even more information.

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