The AGRI Project, part funded by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by Aston and Harper Adams Universities supports companies from within specific sectors to develop in innovative and productive ways. Always on the look out for new and interesting opportunities to work with local businesses, the team were very excited when they met Alison Thomas, a forward thinking and savvy business woman at a Shropshire Chamber business networking event.
Alison is part of a group of social enterprises working tirelessly to support and educate communities to take action and ownership of reducing waste in their local areas. The AGRI project and both universities are very keen to support waste reduction and sustainability in the local region as well as further afield so when Alison explained their ‘Shrewsbury Cup’ concept it was a no brainer to provide support through the project. The Shrewsbury Cup is a reusable, insulated and returnable alternative to a single use non-recyclable take away cup. Consumers pay a £1 deposit when purchasing their drink, which they can then have refunded when the cup is returned to any of the participating outlets.
The Shrewsbury cup was first trialled by Alison at the Hay Festival in 2018. In previous years she had witnessed thousands of single use non-recyclable cups being left strewn across the landscape and was determined to make a change. In May of 2018 with the support of the Hay Festival and their vendors she demonstrated the concept and achieved an amazing 92% reduction in waste proving that the Shrewsbury Cup was a practical and very real option for reducing the use of single use materials. Alison and her co-founder Sophie Peach made a decision, if the concept could work at a festival it could work in towns and on campuses with multiple catering outlets, they just needed a plan to roll it out.
It was towards the end of 2018 that Alison, the AGRI team and David Nuttall (catering manager at Harper Adams University) sat down together to look at the best way for Alison to gain maximum value from the support the AGRI project could offer. It was decided that a trial would be run across the university campus at all catering outlets over a course of a number of weeks, with all take away drinks being given out in Alison’s Shrewsbury Cups as an alternative to single use cups. During the trial, the AGRI team would closely monitor how the cups were being used and get feedback from consumers and catering staff on the pros and cons of the scheme and if they felt that there were any areas for improvement. The trial on the Harper Adams University campus could then be used by the company as a case study to prove the concept when looking to replicate it at other sites.
The campus trial went ahead in April 2019 accompanied by a ‘choose to re-use’ campaign to encourage as much exposure, education and uptake as possible. Although the AGRI team and catering department had bought into the concept, until the trial was carried out no one really knew how well the cup would or wouldn’t be received or if the model would work as well as imagined on campus. At the end of the 3-week period, the results were in and the outcome couldn’t have been a better one; the trial had been a huge success and proven that Alison and Sophie’s concept was a sound one and really could have the impact they had dreamed of to eliminate single use cups from whole campuses.
In 2019 the Shrewsbury Cup scheme was permanently rolled out across the Harper Adams University campus complete with the university logo printed on the side, and by the end of the year the catering department had calculated that by utilising the Shrewsbury Cup they had already saved using over 8000 single use cups. Fast Forward to 2022, although the Shrewsbury Cup scheme was paused during the global pandemic, it is now more successful than ever with 3,000 cups saved from landfill in the first 6 weeks of the academic year.
At the same time as the campus trial, a separate trial had taken place with 8 cafes in Shrewsbury, this had also been a roaring success and the amazing Shrewsbury cup can now be found in use across many areas of Shropshire with new catering outlets and campuses coming on board weekly!
The AGRI project and the catering department at Harper Adams University are very proud to have been part of the Shrewsbury Cups journey and also to have been the first university campus to ‘ditch the disposables’! David Nuttall has said of the scheme: “The scheme has gone down really well, and all the Harper students have embraced our sustainable initiative with open arms (and hands!) Rather than trying to recycle disposable coffee cups this process of completely eradicating them has been hugely successful estimating we will do without using over 46,000 disposable cups on campus per year. We are also really proud to be the first University to role this out which is replicable across our sector and many more Universities soon to follow suit.”
Alison has said of her experience working with the AGRI project: “The support from the AGRI project to trial reusable coffee cups on a campus came at the perfect time – the trial gave us time to iron out operational issues and gave everyone involved the confidence for Harper Adams University to become the first campus in the UK to ditch disposable cups and go totally reusable from September 2019.”