The Future is returnable. Taking a circular approach to hot drinks  

A blueprint for setting up and running a successful returnable cup scheme. 

We know that we urgently need to shift from our disposable single-use culture to a more sustainable, circular future, with reuse and refill at the centre. The good news is, we already have the tools we need to change the world.  A reusable future is possible and we’ve teamed up with pioneering reusable brand Circular&Co. to make this a reality.  

Together, we’ve created a blueprint for setting up and running a successful returnable cup scheme.  

This completely free to access guide has been designed to support anyone wanting to provide an alternative solution to disposable, single-use take-away coffee cups and explore circular, returnable systems – from café owners, to community groups, university campus managers, large employers, office caterers, tourist hotspots, local authority teams and everyone in between.  

We’ve spoken to more than 20 industry experts, leading reuse brands and businesses and shared our own experiences of working in this sector. Our goal is to support the transition to reuse systems at scale by enabling and empowering organisations to create impactful returnable cup schemes. 

So, if you’re ready for change, download the guide for everything you need to know about getting started with your returnable cup scheme – from cups, washing and logistics, to payment mechanisms and tech solutions.  

Download the Returnable Cup Guide

A blueprint for setting up and running a successful returnable cup scheme

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Independent Cafes  


Community Groups 

Businesses and Employers  

Tourism Destinations 


Together, we’re on a mission to make circularity accessible for everyone. It can be a challenging space to work in, and we know no one size fits all. But we hope this guide will give some clarity on the key considerations your organisation will need to think about to maximise its impact. We’ve included a full breakdown of what your organisation will need to consider, and outlined recommendations to help you get your scheme off the ground.  

  1. Choosing the right system & cup   
  2. Logistics and Infrastructure  
  3. Tech  
  4. Behaviour change and marketing recommendations  
  5. Case studies & first hand experiences from other organisations  
  6. Tools and recommended suppliers  

2.5 – 5 BILLION

disposable coffee cups used in the UK every year.   


Communities engaged around the world


of Brits are open to borrowing and returning a cup 


Wherever you operate, Circular&Co. and City to Sea are here to help.  

City to Sea works with hundreds of local community groups, councils and independent cafés to drive lasting local and national change. We have first-hand experience of running a returnable scheme, and with our award-winning Refill app, have a tech solution that could work for your organisation. Get in touch to find out more about how we can help get your returnable scheme off the ground.  

If you’re looking for cups, support on delivering a full service, or a signpost for data partners, washing partners and future product development of returnables, Circular&Co. is on hand with the solution that could be right for your scheme. Following years of experience in this area, and two years of extensive R&D, they launched the first specifically designed returnable cup for the commercial market in early 2023. Get in touch with our Returnables Team for practical support on delivering an effective cup scheme.  

Together we can power the refill and reuse revolution.  

“There simply isn’t a need for anything to be single-use in modern society. Under the principals of a circular economy, the reuse and re-circulation of resources is key, making them cheaper and profoundly better for the environment. But for the last four years, collectively as an industry, we have not been able to move the dial past 5-6% of takeaway coffee being consumed in a reusable cup. The fact is, we need a complementary mass market, mass habit-changing, mass engagement solution. After nearly two years of returnable development, using our Circular Returnable Cup in multiple global trials, and the in-depth work carried out in this blueprint, we’re now in a position to shape the future. It’s roll out time!”

Dan Dicker

CEO and Founder, Circular&Co.



The award-winning Refill app has been downloaded by more than half a million people, helping them to eat drink and shop with less waste. The app is used to power the Refill Return Cup which we’re currently piloting as a city wide returnable cup scheme in Bristol. Get in touch to find out how the Refill app could help with the delivery of your returnable cup scheme.

The Circular Returnable Cup.

The ultimate solution to the single-use coffee cup problem. The Circular Returnable Cup was specifically designed to meet the commercial demands of the hot drinks industry After two years of development and a year of field testing, the design and innovation team considered each detail of the cup’s journey from the bottom up. Everything was taken into consideration, from drying time and stackability, to what a barista needs for the perfect latté pour, and user drinking experience. Find out more.


Circular&Co.’s brilliant cost calculator can not only estimate the number of cups needed to set up a scheme, but also work out your Co2 savings and how much money your business will save by switching. The Circular&Co. Calculator considers factors like how much your serves go up during busy periods, what kind of return rate you can expect, how many days a week you are open. This tool gives you a great insight into the number of cups you will need to start with and what top-up’s you might require. Take a look. 


In creating the downloadable guide, we’ve spoken to returnable cup scheme pioneers and industry experts. Find out more about the incredible work they’ve been doing and learn from real world examples of reuse systems in practice.

“As longtime champions of refill and reuse, City to Sea is delighted to see the recent explosion of interest and innovation in returnable systems. Over the last year, new returnable schemes have launched across the country including our own pilot of a city-wide -returnable cup scheme in Bristol, the Refill Return Cup. Together with reuse pioneers, Circular&Co, we’re on a mission to make circularity accessible for everyone. We’ve joined forces to create a guide for anyone looking to set up their own returnable cup scheme, drawing from our own first-hand experience, and from the brilliant schemes that are already out there, leading the way. Our goal is to support the transition to reuse systems at scale by enabling and empowering organisations to create impactful returnable cup schemes.”

Jo Morley

Head of Campaigns, City to Sea

Thank you to our CONTRIBUTORS 

In the researching and creation of this guide, we’ve spoken to more than 20 industry experts, leading reuse brands and businesses. It’s a testament to the willingness of those working within this space to unite and share their experiences to progress wider industry change.

We’re grateful to everyone who shared their time, learnings, insights and challenges to help us make this information available to other organisations. Thank you to our contributors and case studies at:

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