Transitioning beyond single-use plastic drinks cups: An emergent social marketing case study in Scotland

Marylyn Carrigan, Victoria Wells, Kerry Mackay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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This study aims to investigate whether consumers and small businesses can transition from disposable to reusable coffee cups, using a community social marketing intervention, led by a Social Purpose Organisation.

An emergent case study approach using multiple sources of data developed an in-depth, multifaceted, real-world context evaluation of the intervention. The methodology draws on citizen science “messy” data collection involving multiple, fragmented sources.

Moving from single-use cups to reusables requires collective commitment by retailers, consumers and policymakers, despite the many incentives and penalties applied to incentivise behaviour change. Difficult post-COVID economics, austerity and infrastructure gaps are undermining both reusable acceptance and interim solutions to our dependence upon disposables.

Research limitations/implications
Although the non-traditional methodology rendered gaps and omissions in the data, the citizen science was democratising and inclusive for the community.

Practical implications
Our practical contribution evaluates a whole community intervention setting to encourage reusable cups, integrating multiple stakeholders, in a non-controllable, non-experimental environment in contrast to previous research. This paper demonstrates how small community grants can foster impactful collaborative partnerships between an SPO and researchers, facilitate knowledge-exchange beyond the initial remit and provide a catalyst for possible future impact and outcomes.

To assess the impact at both the outcome and the process level of the intervention, we use Pawson and Tilley’s realist evaluation theory – the Context Mechanism Outcome framework. The methodological contribution demonstrates the process of citizen science “messy” data collection, likely to feature more frequently in future social science research addressing climate change and sustainability challenges.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Early online date6 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Dec 2023


  • Community Social Marketing
  • Plastic Pollution
  • Sustainability
  • Waste
  • Citizen Science
  • Reusables
  • Litter
  • Food Industry


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