Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Charging more for coffee would reduce waste

Many coffee shops such as Costa and Starbucks offer 25p discounts if you use a re-usable cup.

And that’s a great advance in reducing the number sent to landfill sites.

However researchers at Cardiff University have found that offering this discount had no effect.

But charging an additional 25p per cup increased the usage of re-useable cups by 3.4%

And if you displayed environmentally friendly messages and provided some free re-useable cups the use of such cups increased by 12%.

This is a good demonstration of behavioural economics. People are more sensitive to losses than gains when making decisions. Charging 25p more is seen as a loss and people are more sensitive to that than saving the same amount.

If we really want to change a customer’s behaviour then a charge on a disposable cup is more likely to be effective” said the author of the research report.

Many people might find it difficult to remember to take a re-useable cup with them. I have one in my car but hardly ever use even when visiting Costa at my local Tesco (partly because I don’t think Cappuccino travels well).

Last year Starbucks temporarily doubled the discount to 50p but it only increased the use of re-useable cups by 0.2% up to 1.2%.

After the success of charging people for plastic bags in shops it’s worth considering a similar move with coffee cups.


Mirror, mirror on the wall..

Reblogged with your New Year resolutions in mind…


looking_in_mirror_1600_wht_5647Who is eating most of all?

Scientists are interested in factors that influence how much people eat.

Previous research has shown that the size of plates, even their colour can have an effect. As can background sounds e.g. the sounds of the sea makes fish tastier.

Eating with a fork rather than a spoon (which makes people underestimate their meals), using paper plates or even giving people toys with their meals can make them accept smaller portions.

On of the latest ideas is putting up a mirror in the dining room so you can see a reflection of what you are eating. Given a choice of chocolate cake or a fruit salad those eating in front of a mirror enjoyed the chocolate cake less (those eating fruit salad were unaffected).

Researchers at the University of Florida where the experiment took place said that having a mirror in the room makes diners…

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A Storm in a coffee cup


Slide1after the Times revealed last week that only 1 in 400 takeaway cups were being recycled.

Simply Cups – which runs the only UK cup recycling service – said that only 3 million cups were recycled last year (expected to double this year) but 7 million cups are used each day.

The four biggest coffee chains in the UK; Costa, Starbucks, Caffé Nero and Pret a Manger, all make claims about recycling or suggest that they are environmentally friendly.

Costa uses the recycling symbol (see photo) although Pret and Caffé Nero only have it on their cardboard sleeves. Starbucks’ website says it wants to make 100% of its cups recyclable by 2015.

The Environment Minister has suggested a tax on coffee to reduce waste and litter along the same lines as the tax on plastic bags which worked (Tesco reduced disposable bag usage by 80% in two months). This is not…

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5p plastic bag tax has been effective


Retailers in England moaned about having to charge customers 5p for single-use plastic bags and the government dragged its feet.

P1030059The good news is that since introducing the tax the number of bags in use has fallen by 85% or six billion.

That’s a lot of bags, almost 100 for every one in the UK.

The money raised by the tax goes to charitable causes. Most are environmental projects but some supermarkets have committed to help dementia research at UCL.

Some supermarkets give all the money less VAT to to charity while others make deductions

Overall the scheme has succeeded in producing benefits to wild life and the environment.

England might have come late to the party – long after countries like Denmark, Brazil, China, Mexico, Morocco, sub-saharan African states, Ireland, Wales and Scotland  – but it made good in the end.

Now let’s tackle plastic micro-beads!

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Vertical Gardens in Mexico

imagesThis is one of the best ideas I’ve seen for ages.

The “Respira” (it means breathe) project run by non-profit VerdMX provides these vertical garden sculptures around Mexico City.

They aim to improve the air quality, reduce urban noise and heat, and provide some greenery (which is known to reduce stress) amongst the concrete.

The sculptures are sponsored by Nissan as part of their environmental commitment.

Thanks to Springwise for showcasing this and if you want to read more and see the video go to: http://tinyurl.com/ccfglyk

When the going gets tough

Data from the 28th annual British Social Attitudes report shows that rather than moving to a big society, we are withdrawing and trying to look after ourselves, perhaps becoming more resilient.

Since 1980 when the surveys started the biggest changes are:

  • 54% of people think that benefits are too high and discourage people from working – up from 35% since 1980
  • paying more taxes for public services such as the NHS and education is only supported by 31% compared to 63% nine years ago
  • Only 25% are now prepared to pay higher prices to safeguard the environment, down from 43% in 2000
  • Scepticism about global warming has grown from 25% in 2000 to 38% now

The National Centre for Social Research which carries out the surveys – over 3,000 adults interviewed for an hour each – thinks the big question is whether we are becoming more selfish and concerned with only looking after ourselves.

This reaction to austerity and civil unrest is perhaps not surprising when the working middles see bankers at the top still getting away with mind-boggling bonuses whilst at the same time seeing families who’ve never worked, and which seem to breed even more generations of welfare benefit recipients, living at the tax-payers expense in houses they can’t afford.

It’s hard to worry about others when we are worried about ourselves and our families. That’s our priority. We may be becoming more self-reliant but at a cost to society as a whole.

And part of that problem is that we have a very unequal society with income inequality the highest it’s been for 30 years. The richest tenth of our population has 31% of total income and as much as the bottom 50% put together.

It would be interesting to see how well charities are doing in terms of  contributions these days. Are people still giving to good causes?

I think there is more scepticism about just where your charity pound actually goes these days. And am I the only person who gets annoyed seeing celebrities on TV asking us to give to charities from our hard-earned income. It would be easier if they each wrote a nice cheque, which would be tax-dedcutable I’m sure, and save us the trouble of having our regular TV programmes cancelled so they can promote themselves alongside the charity.

Charge for plastic bags

In 2006 11 billion single-use bags were used each year.

By 2009 this had dropped to just over 6 billion but now it has started to rise again and last year we used nearly 7 billion.

And that’s just bags supplied by Asda, the Co-op Group, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.

The environmental impact is well known (see my post last year about this topic).

Bag use can be reduced. Ireland reduced their consumption by 90% when they introduced a charge in 2002 and now the average number of bags used per person each year is 27 compared with 220 in Britain.

In Wales shoppers will be charged 5p a bag from October and already  use has dropped by 7%, presumably because it has focused attention on the issue.

As usual England lags behind. The government is talking about charging because the voluntary pledge by supermarkets to cut bag usage in half has failed but , surprise, surprise, the big retailers are against it.

The head of environment at the British Retail Consortium thinks the latest figures (a 12% increase) are encouraging and said; “An obsession with carrier bags shouldn’t get in the way of bigger green goals” referring to energy use, waste, and the impact of the products people buy.

Well they could make a start with packaging, half of which is unnecessary and used for security or to make a statement on a shelf. I buy Apple products regularly and they have considerably reduced their packaging. I still have the box my first iPod came in and it’s a work of art but now they just come in a bubble pack or similar, and it’s the same with the computers and the software.

But back to bags. Just charge people for them. Everyone knows it works and not just in Ireland. M&S and Ikea reduced bag use by 80-90% when they started charging for them.