28 July 2022

Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub helps independent cafes reduce single-use items

The Sustainable Materials Innovation (SMI) Hub hosted a cohort of Greater Manchester independent cafes at the Henry Royce Institute Hub Building for an afternoon workshop on sustainability.

© Harris Vo/Unsplash

The workshop arose following increasing commitments to legislation that will ban single-use items in the service industry.

From June 2022, single-use plastic items, including cutlery, plates, stirrers, polystyrene cups and food containers, are banned in Scotland, with the rest of the UK likely to follow suit.

Businesses from across Manchester joined the SMI Hub to learn more about single-use, and how materials they use are made, used and disposed of, and gain an insight into where they could reduce costs, waste, resources, and environmental impact.

The two-hour workshop was split into three different areas:


Dr Chloe Loveless, Senior Experimental Officer and Dr Guilhem De Hoe, Research Fellow, went through a general overview of plastics and the waste management structures needed to deal with each type – and the limitations of these. This included mechanical recycling, industrial composting and energy from waste via incineration.

Reducing single-Use

Dr Nicola Jones, Experimental Officer presented on the limitations of and challenges of single-use, from start to end-of-life, across single-use cups, cutlery, tableware and packaging. Suggestions to reduce single-use included:

  • Buy for end-of-life – contact your waste management company to understand what happens to your waste and what they can and can’t accept​
  • Eliminate single-use stirrers, replace with reusables, for example a metal spoon​
  • Provide lids and straws only when requested rather than by default​
  • Eliminate single-serving packaging, for example sugar packets. ​

Promoting reuse

It’s estimated <5% hot drinks are sold in reusable cups, despite two-thirds of customers own a reusable cup​.

Michaela Kiernan, Business Engagement Coordinator went through ideas to incentivise reuse, such as levy charges on disposable cups versus discounts and loyalty card stamps for reusables, and deposit return schemes.

A case study suggested was Boston Tea Party, a small chain of independent cafes who in 2018 banned single-use cups and opted to incentivise reuse by encouraging their customers to either bring their own reusable cups, ​buy a subsidised reusable cup, or loan a cup on a deposit return scheme. They have so far prevented over 820,000 ​disposable cups from going to landfill/incineration.

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