How to Eliminate Styrofoam Cups in Your Enterprise

I don’t know about you, but styrofoam cups make me a little crazy.  Everytime I use one I think, “Wow, that’s going to sit in a landfill for a looooong time.”  So when I started working with Cynthia Curtis, who was the Chief Sustainability Officer of CA Technologies at the time, and realized how many styrofoam cups they  were still using in cafeterias and break rooms, it came as no surprise that getting rid of them was a priority for her.  And she wasn’t alone.

When CA distributed an employee survey to judge reaction to potential sustainability projects, eliminating styrofoam cups was a very close #2 in North America (where the vast majority of styrofoam was being used).  Seems like an easy project, right?  Not so fast.  Although the sustainability team worked hard to plan effectively and the project was ultimately a success, they hit some bumps in the road along the way.   Here’s how they did it, some (painful) lessons learned and, ultimately, some pretty impressive results.

Strategy for Eliminating Styrofoam Cups in the Enterprise

The goal was to eliminate use of styrofoam cups entirely in North America, the region with the greatest use.  The initial discussion among stakeholders and employees were so positive that it was  decided to expand the scope and use this as an opportunity to eliminate all disposable cups.  A tall (or potentially Venti) order.  To accomplish this, the company planned to:
  • Give every employee their own CA branded mug
  • Provide mugs and additional reuseable mugs and tumblers in the cafeterias and disposable cups in the pantries for use by visitors
  • Put each employee in charge of washing and maintaining their own cup
  • Effectively communicate - in conjunction with marketing - to employees through multiple channels to announce the initiative
  • Work closely with facility management to implement
  • Use metrics and employee feedback to gauge success and define areas for improvement or modification

Launch - The Beginning of the End for Styrofoam

Making sure that employees were prepared for this shift required careful planning.  It just so happened  CA was going through a re-branding exercise at the time and were able to work with marketing to coordinate efforts.  The CA Technologies coffee mug actually became an important part of the internal re-branding effort and each cup came with one of CA’s four core principles printed on it.  
They also included the news in departmental newsletters, published blog posts, put signage in place and distributed details with the mugs as they were distributed.  You can’t over communicate on this.  Everyone loves their morning cup of coffee and you are bound to ruffle some feathers when you change their daily rituals.


In order to deploy the reusable cup strategy, and eliminate styrofoam from all locations, Cynthia worked hand-in-hand with the facility management team as they are responsible for stocking pantries and cafeteria management at our locations.  With their help CA made sure there were extra mugs and tumblers available at all locations, clear signage was put in place describing the effort and employees responsibilities, and that all disposable cups were taken out of circulation.

Lessons Learned

  • Don’t eliminate all “to-go” cups at once:  It turns out that styrofoam and “to-go” are not the same thing.  When they decided to eliminate all disposable cups, CA bit off a little more than they could chew.  There were situations where visitors could not find an available mug for their coffee, and employees heading out for meetings or to the airport had no way to grab a cup of coffee or water for the road. I was told a story about a guest who ended up using a soup bowl for coffee. Ouch!
  • CA quickly reintroduced a limited number of disposable cups at each location.  They are made from recycled materials and are compostable.  Since the team has become used to using mugs, not only do the new reusable cups having a much lighter footprint, the team is using substantially fewer to-go cups overall.
  • Overestimate cleaning supply needs:  With thousands of employees suddenly responsible for washing dishes in the sink every day, CA found that ensuring the sink area was properly stocked was a challenge.  Be sure to order more sponges and dish soap and put a process in place for refreshing them consistently.  Nobody likes cleaning their coffee cup with a nasty old sponge.
  • Listen for employee feedback:  As with any sustainability initiative, it is important to pay attention to feedback from the team.  While some criticism will always be expected, legitimate concerns will turn into themes, and those should be acted upon.

Results - That’s a Whole Lot of Million-Year Waste Being Avoided

Almost 36 Sears Towers.
That’s how tall the 1.236 million styrofoam cups that CA did not used in the first 10 months of this initiative would reach if they were stacked one on top of another.  CA also eliminated over 2070kg of waste that would otherwise go to a landfill (it would be a lot more, but styrofoam is wicked light!).  Finally, they’ve eliminated that nagging voice in the back of your head reminding you that the styrofoam cup you just threw out is going to be around for another million years.
Categories:  Facilities, employee engagement, materials reduction

Tags:  facilities management, environment, employee engagement, materials reduction, sustainability, best practices

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