Text: Iryna Myronova, Zero Waste Lviv; Sofia-Yuliia Sydorenko, Zero Waste Lviv; Valeria Kit, Zero Waste Lviv; Oksana Udovyk, UNDP Ukraine
Editing: Euan Macdonald, Tetyana Kononenko, Yuliia Hudoshnyk, UNDP Ukraine
Reusable cups, edible cups, and gamification were some of the zero waste options tested in a city-wide experiment using circular economy approaches. How did it go, and what did we learn?
Entry point: Circular economy principles
The concept of the circular, or closed-loop, economy is now widely seen as one of the important solutions for sustainable development in the world. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which works to accelerate the transition to a circular economy, describes it as follows: “Looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and designing waste out of the system.”
Since the publication of the European Green Deal, and its Circular Action Plan, the idea of the circular economy has received additional attention in Europe, and in Ukraine in particular.
At the same time, most production systems in Ukraine are outmoded and far from achieving circular economy standards. Compared to many EU countries, sorting and recycling practices in Ukraine are significantly less developed (more than 90 percent of waste goes to landfills, and only about 3 percent is recycled). Could circular economy principles be applied to such a system? What are the obstacles and accelerants? UNDP’s Accelerator Lab decided to test the possibilities of the circular economy approach in Ukraine in the case of the coffee making business.
Changing coffee consumption habits in Lviv
UNDP’s Accelerator Lab teamed up the NGO Zero Waste Lviv, which has been dealing with waste prevention in Lviv for four years.
Lviv is famous for its coffee houses. Since the popularity of coffee to go has been rising for the last decade, demand for disposable cups is rising as well.
In 2019, Zero Waste Lviv conducted a study of urban landfills, revealing that disposable cups made up 20 percent of the garbage collected from the city’s litter containers.
The researchers also analysed the condition of the cups in the landfill. In most cases, they are not crushed before being thrown away. Bulky and light, they take up a lot of space, so trash bins need to be emptied more frequently. Disposable paper cups are also not eco-friendly:
1. They are coated inside with a polypropylene film inside to prevent liquid leakage.
2. Due to this film, they cannot be recycled together with wastepaper. They require a special processing technology like that used for other types of mixed packaging such as tetra pack.
Hypotheses and experiments
Searching for a solution to this problem, the team looked at global experience. They identified three basic solutions:
1. Personal reusable cup: a great example of a product in a circular economy, as it can be used repeatedly;
2. Edible cup: Users eat the cup, and thus no waste cups are produced;
3. Reusable cups on deposit: a system used in many countries and cities – customers buy coffee in a reusable cup, leaving a deposit. After drinking coffee, they can return the cup and reclaim their deposit.
We decided to test these options in Lviv to see whether consumers and coffee shops are ready for such behavioural changes and test their “circularity.” We also wanted to identify potential problems and ways to overcome them.
The first problem appeared at the planning stage – the COVID-19 crisis. For sanitary reasons, we had to abandon the experiment with reusable cups on deposit, and focus on other options:
1. Bring your own reusable cup and get a discount
Hypothesis: if there is a discount, people will be more eager to bring their own cup and there will be no disposable garbage.
Hypothesis: if there is an attractive mobile application encouraging the use of reusable cups, disposable ones will become less popular and there will be less garbage.