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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Evaluation of the environmental impact of take-away beverage cups and possible measures to reduce the consumption

The visibility of empty hot beverage cups in public places has initiated the discussion about littering and the environmental assessment of disposable cups. In Germany alone, the consumption of 2.8 billion hot drinks in disposable cups - of which approx. 1.1 - 1.2 billion are consumed "to take away" - generates approx. 28,000 tonnes of waste per year. Even if large shares of the waste are recycled sooner or later, this has an environmental impact that deserves closer examination. The main environmental challenges identified in relation to hot beverage cups are waste management issues, such as littering, and resource management issues related to the short-term use of resources. For this reason, voluntary and legal measures to reduce the volume of disposable beverage cups were identified and evaluated in a Project on behalf of the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA). To implement the measures, a dual strategy has been recommended, which consists of bundling and combining several measures: Voluntary measures within the framework of a national sectoral agreement including economic incentives (such as price differentiation at the point of sale through deposits or voluntary levies) and communication campaigns for customers and staff. In order to increase the implementation probability of the voluntary measures, the preparation of regulatory measures such as the mandatory levies on lids and disposable cups, the introduction of a supra-regional deposit system and labelling requirements are recommended - not least on the basis of the EU Commission proposal on the reduction of disposable plastic products. The life cycle assessment addresses the question of which boundary conditions must be fulfilled by possible reusable alternatives so that reuse does not lead to ecological rebound effects.

Frieder Rubik
Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW)

Benedikt Kauertz
ifeu - Institut für Energie- und Umweltforschung

Jürgen Heinisch
GVM – Gesellschaft für Verpackungsmarktforschung

Peter Kolbe
Klimaschutz+ Stiftung


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