Making the coffee culture in Ukraine eco-friendly. Lessons learned from experiments in Lviv

Photo credit: Zero Waste Lviv

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.

2.      Gamification

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.

3.      Edible cups

Hypothesis: People will eat the cup after drinking their coffee, meaning there is zero waste.

Our research took place at all six cafes of the KREDENS CAFE coffee chain in Lviv. Before launching the experiments, the project team held training sessions with baristas and interviewers, and distributed information posters to inform the café goers about the initiative.

The experiments had four stages and lasted two weeks. At the first stage, the baristas told customers they could take coffee to go in their own cup. During the second stage, the cafe offered a 30 percent discount to anyone who came with their own reusable cup. At the third stage, we invited coffee lovers to try an edible cup. At the fourth stage, the customers were invited to test a mobile application with a map of cafes offering discounts on coffee in your own cup. It contained a gamified system of motivation for coffee consumption in reusable cups.

Throughout the experiment, interviewers were present at the locations, surveying coffee buyers about their experiences: both in the use of a reusable cup and the consumption of edible cups. Almost 200 coffee shop customers were interviewed during the experiment.

What we learned

1.      Bring your cup and get a discount

Forty-eight percent of surveyed customers favoured the idea of ​​getting a discount. Almost a third agreed that a discount would motivate them to bring their own cup instead of getting a single-use one in a coffee shop.

However, the experiment showed that only 9 percent of respondents brought a cup with them, meaning discounts were not a strong motivator. Among the restraining factors, respondents mentioned forgetting their cup at home, the inconvenience of carrying it around, and fears of leakage.

2.      Gamification

A mobile application was created to give customers the exact locations of coffee shops where discounts for reusable cups are available. The apps prototype was shown to coffee shop goers. Some customers were reluctant to download an additional application, particularly if they were not sure they would use it.

However, the gamification feature turned out to be the most interesting to potential users of the app (read more on this below).

3.      Edible cup

Despite initial interest in the idea of an edible cup, 95 percent of customers didn’t try this option. Among the reasons, respondents mentioned was the taste (the cup was too sweet), its size (suitable only for espresso) and disapproval of the additional plastic packaging for each cup of such kind. Only three people drank coffee and ate the cup at once, while others took it away. Thus, the potential use of the edible cups must be further explored.

Making coffee drinking more sustainable in Ukraine

Our experiments showed that shifting to circular alternatives in Ukraine is not an easy task. Options that work elsewhere do not necessarily work in Ukraine.

Economic factors did not work as we predicted: a 30 percent discount for coffee lovers with their own reusable cups did not play a significant role in changing their consumption habits. Customers forgot to bring their own cup, or they were uncomfortable about using it (because of washing it, carrying it around etc.). Would it be worth increasing the discount? Would that make economic sense for coffee shops? Would it really change consumers behaviour? These are questions for further experiments.

“It may be worthwhile indicating the price of a cup and coffee separately in the receipt, so customers can see what they’re paying for. This could be a topic for future experiments,” says Sofia-Yuliia Sydorenko, Operations Manager of Zero Waste Lviv.

Gamification attracted some attention from Lviv residents. Perhaps a combination of IT solutions and practical actions for nature (e.g., planting trees) can help bring the circular economy into the coffee consumption sphere. At the same time, most respondents said they would not download an extra application due to a lack of free space in their smartphones.

Edible alternatives were not particularly successful. Very few customers (approximately 5 percent) were willing to have edible cups with their coffee - most just wanted the drink. In this case, edible cups will end up in landfills, exacerbating the problem of waste.

The experiments showed that coffee drinkers favoured reusable cups. Respondents expressed willingness to use both their own cups and third-party reusable options, if offered. But there was a mismatch between what they said, and what they did: only a small share of the respondents brought their own cup.

We observed that customers do not want to worry about this issue, so it is necessary to offer solutions that facilitate an easy and comfortable shift to environmentally friendly coffee consumption. It is important to have a convenient service that does not differ from customers’ usual consumption routine. And it should be fast and safe.

The experiments show the main demand of coffee shops is not to complicate communications or operations during the provision of a service. A system that reduces the number of disposable coffee cups should not increase the work of the employees at the same time.

Legal hurdles also hamper the effective implementation of the circular economy in Ukraine. The framework legislation on waste is not yet adopted – today, parliament is working to limit the circulation of disposable plastic bags, but not other types of packaging. In contrast, in 2019 the EU issued a separate directive on reducing the impact of plastic products on the environment (Single use Plastic Directive) which allows for banning or reducing the use of certain types of disposable products, including food packaging and disposable cups.

Clearly, it is worth expanding and adapting circular alternatives in Ukraine. We still want to test the reusable cups with a deposit option but will only do so after the global pandemic. In the meantime, we have realized that new hypotheses need to be developed not only for products (cups) but also related economic and legal alternatives. This includes adding the value of the cup to the check, introducing the approach of "pay for what you throw away" or so-called "extended producer responsibility." The latter requires the introduction of a local tax for businesses that sell drinks and food to go.

Our research on opportunities and challenges for the circular economy in Ukraine is not complete. We will look for and test new hypotheses. If you have a hypothesis for us to test, get in touch with us at zerowastelviv@gmail.com and acclab.ua@undp.org.

Background:

Zero Waste Lviv is a community established at the end of 2016 as a volunteer counselling centre at the Lviv City Council on waste management and prevention. In 2018 Zero Waste Lviv was registered as an NGO. Its mission is to promote the implementation of zero waste principles in Ukraine via establishing Lviv as a model municipality setting standards for other cities.

UNDP Ukraine’s Accelerator Lab is a global UNDP initiative aimed at identifying, elaborating and scaling-up innovative and sustainable solutions for local communities. Sixty Accelerator Labs teams are serving 78 countries to tackle 21st century development challenges.

 

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