Beyond reusable cups: reducing waste in cafés

31 August, 2017 by
Madeline Woolway

In the wake of ABC’s War on Waste, the movement against takeaway beverage cups has reached fever-pitch.

According to the War on Waste, 52 mega tonnes of waste are generated in Australia a year. After the show aired — exposing the fact that 98 percent of single use coffee cups are unrecyclable — reusable cup manufacturer KeepCup saw a 690 percent spike in sales enquiries, while frank green saw sales of their SmartCup increase tenfold.

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The stats aren’t just coming from companies like KeepCup and frank green though, cafés have made note of the spike too.

“It’s really noticeable. We have periods of the day where we have 20 [reusable] cups waiting, whereas before that we would see maybe 10 to 15 a day,” says Angus Lindsay, head of retail and head barista at Single O.

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“We think about 10 percent of takeaway coffees are now sold in reusable cups and it used be around two percent.”

That means the Sydney-based café group and coffee roaster has ‘saved’ around 2000 cups, but they’re aiming for 24,000 in a year.

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“We’ve set a target for May next year to try to reduce single use cups by 50 percent,” adds Single O’s head of marketing Mike Brabant.

“We’ve got a few strategies in place. We did free coffee on the day War on Waste went to air — I think we did 600 reusable cups, which was about 50 percent of all takeaways across our stores.

“We’ve installed standing bars at Surry Hills to encourage short stay coffees. So instead of getting takeaway the barista will give customers a ceramic cup. That’s working really well. It’s about mimicking the French and Italian style — we’ve just developed a takeaway culture here.

“And at Carriageworks Farmers Market we’ve introduced ‘café cups’, which Acme & Co gave us. We started 10 to 12 weeks ago and now 20 to 25 percent of the coffees we do at Carriageworks are café cups.

“You need a multitude of factors to reduce the use of takeaway cups.”

Like Single O, Three Blue Ducks’ business model is predicated on sustainability, which means they too have begun finding other ways to reduce waste beyond switching out single use cups for reusable ones.

“We’ve always pushed the sustainable and environmentally friendly aspects of our business,” operations manager Paul Dewhurst tells Hospitality.

“We spoke to Single O about their free coffee day and decided to do the same – on that day we gave away 460 free coffees.

“Even though our single use cups are recyclable there’s obviously still a lot of energy that goes into making them. It’s also about creating awareness. People might not have their KeepCup with them, but they still want a coffee — if they’re just going to be walking around, maybe they don’t need a lid.”

Single O for example has seen about 10 to 15 percent of their customers go lidless when prompted.

While there’s no dispute that venues should be trying to reduce the reliance on single use cups, there is some disagreement over whether to apply a discount.

“We do the 50 cent discount,” says Dewhurst. “A lot of places give you a 50 cent discount for takeaway coffee to begin with, because you aren’t taking up space in the café – we just changed that. When we started the reusable cup discount we brought takeaway prices in-line with dine-in ones.

“I don’t know what would happen if 50 or 75 percent of people started to bring reusable cups — that may change things dramatically.”

For now, Dewhurst says their choice has levelled the playing field, meaning they don’t need to recover margins by asking for a cheaper price from their roasters — Single O.

“We give 15 cents [the cost of a single use cup] to Take 3 for the Sea, which is a local charity,” says Brabant. “On a positive note, we just felt it’s about educating the customer and having them make the choice. It can become quite single minded, just speaking about price. It can make it feel like we aren’t talking about the bigger issue.

“There’s a whole chain of things. It’s about sustainability for farmers and for our clients.”

Lindsay explains: “As coffee roasters we really can’t devalue coffee at all, especially on the producer end.

“Discounting keeps the mindset that coffee is a cheap product. We want to encourage people to think about where the coffee is coming from, if we can increase the cost that will benefit everyone from the start of the line.”

While Three Blue Ducks does apply a discount, Dewhurst agrees that businesses need to find a way to manage their margins: “Ultimately we, and everyone else who gets involved, are doing it for the greater good. It’s short-sighted to say we’re not going to get on board because it’ll cost us money.”

How are business like Three Blue Ducks and Single O keeping track of their progress?

“We have a separate pay button for reusable cups. These days everything is computer-based so you should be able to know if people are bringing reusable cups or getting takeaway ones,” says Dewhurst.

Single O have also just added a separate POS button, which they split up into reusable cups, short stay and lidless.

“From that we can see what’s working and what needs a push. It’s very useful,” says Lindsay.

Having multiple options available and collecting data about what’s working will be the key to a future free of single use cups.

“The solution is getting people to eschew single use cups, not forcing them to use reusable ones,” says Brabant. “We’re on an ongoing journey.”

Multiple tips from Single O

  • Educate customers so they can make a conscious choice based on understanding the cost of specialty coffee, the price of single use cups and how they are currently recycled.
  • Support a local charity or someone who is working to reduce waste by donating the cost of your single use cups every time a customer uses a reusable one instead.
  • Convince customers to take the initial step of buying a reusable cup by offering a free coffee with the purchase. Boost conversions by running a one-off free coffee day.
  • Offer multiple solutions to reduce single use waste — encourage reusable cups; advocate ‘going lidless’; provide café cups at markets and festivals; and create space for short stay, European-style coffee breaks.

This article was originally published in Hospitality’s August issueSubscribe for more stories like this.