Spilling the Beans with bRU Coffee Bondi

Intro-brew-sing… bRU Coffee Bondi! 

If you’ve been to Bondi recently, you may have spied a bustling hole in the wall, with surfers, families and four-legged friends alike gathered around doing the Saturday quiz together. Chances are you’ve stumbled upon one of our favourite cafes in Sydney’s Bondi Beach: bRU Coffee Bondi. 

Responsible Cafes recently had the privilege of chatting with bRU’s owner to unpack exactly how they’ve created a community of mug-wielding waste warriors…

Meet Sondie, local sustainability legend and owner of bRU Coffee Bondi

My name is Sondra and I own a small, hole in the wall community cafe, bRU Coffee, in North Bondi. bRU opened in 2007 and I’ve owned it for 10 years. Our specialty is the community. We are registered as a Responsible Cafe and have been for the past couple of years – our Bean Rating is 5! 

Who is bRU Coffee Bondi?

bRU Coffee is truly a community cafe. It’s where the locals, swimming groups, running groups, cyclists, mums and bubs and everyone in between come to enjoy coffee and each other.

Because it’s so relaxed, people tend to really interact and speak to each other and make real connections. It’s lovely to see people who met at bRU who are now best friends, live together, exercise together and meet at bRU to have coffee together.

What makes bRU Coffee unique?

We’re unique because we are the first and only cafe in Bondi that is 100% single use cup free.  

We buy all our cups from Vinnies and Lifeline and we also get them donated by our community.

The other thing that makes us unique is the fact that we don’t have tables and chairs so people don’t feel separated from each other. Everyone mucks in, sits next to each other, talks to each other. There’s no WIFI. People really do sit and talk and I love that.

Sustainability Spotlight

When did your sustainability journey as a cafe begin and what prompted it?

The sustainability journey started about 5 years ago when we first started a very small mug library (more on that here!). We are a “take away” cafe and I really didn’t like seeing people sitting around with a single use cup, so I started to think about how I could change that. So many people have keep cups but always forget them so we thought “library” … have a coffee, take the cup and it would be great if you could bring it back or bring another.

A compostable takeaway coffee cup lid with the letters PLA and the plastic identification code #7 circled

Our community started to pick up on it and it kept growing. Customers wanted to have their coffees in a proper cup and they loved that they could take them away and bring them back or bring another one back. We have so many people who might love a particular cup. They take it home and swap it out.

Top Image of Simply Cups Australia, Bottom Image of Lydy

Bondi did a small campaign called F%^K the Cup in 2020 and after it finished, I really struggled offering single use cups again. It just didn’t sit well with me at all so …Plastic Free July 2022 rolled around and I decided to take the plunge and go 100% single use cup free and I’ve never looked back. It’s been amazing.

What is your proudest sustainability achievement as a business?

Going 100% single use cup free is definitely my proudest achievement.  

The second would be the fact that we saved 252,000 single use cups from landfill from July 2022-July 2023. I was gobsmacked and so proud of the community for coming on the ride with us. The fact that they have done this with us, makes me really, really proud.

What top 5 sustainable actions do you take as a cafe?
  1. Obviously the cups are our first action. Along with the 252,000 cups saved from landfill, packaging wise we would save anywhere between $600-$1100 a week
  2. We have a compost bin and actively compost all our coffee grinds, food and anything else that is compostable. We also tell our customers that they are welcome to bring their compost to us
  3. We have a “keg” system for our milk.  Each keg contains 18 litres of milk and the kegs are returned and refilled. Each keg can be used up to 800 times and then they are recycled to make more kegs
  4. We use beeswax covers to cover all our left over food so we try wherever possible not to use plastic
  5. All our outdoor furniture is reused and repurposed wood

Eco Exchange

For cafes starting out in their sustainability journey, what would be your top 3 tips to reducing their impact on waste?

Your community and customers love you, so if you’re scared that they won’t come back if you make changes … they will. They come to you for a reason. Make the decision and just go for it!

It’s actually really fun. For us, the cups have taken on a life of their own. People can’t wait to see what kind of cup they’re going to get. 

We’re all in this together and the more of us that make these small changes, the better for all of us.

bRU Coffee evidently do a lot of impactful work as a business which must have been influenced by your values as a person. Do you have any tips for individuals/customers on ways to reduce waste in their daily lives?

My advice would be: stop and take time to have a coffee… you can meet someone lovely, have a nice conversation and start your day with a smile rather than constantly rushing around. If you don’t have time, just like you pick up your phone, keys and handbag… remember your cup! 

You don’t have to do it perfectly … I always say … one cup at a time … so even a small change is a change and that starts another change …. It’s infectious

How do you think customers can best support cafes in terms of waste reduction and sustainability?

If you sit in, don’t ask for a single use cup. Have your coffee in a china cup.  

If you have to run and need a single use, how about you don’t need a lid?

If you’re having an espresso/macchiato, do you really need a single use cup and a lid? 

If you make a point, then it might get your local thinking.

bRU Cafe has created a true sense of community, like Saturday quiz sessions while enjoying a morning brew.

Do you think something can be said for creating this sort of space for the community to come together and creating a sense of collective responsibility or identity, one that people can be proud to be a part of?

I’ve told many people this: my “nirvana” would be that all cafes in Bondi did this and that anyone can go to any cafe and drop their cup off at the next cafe so essentially have a mug library across Bondi where the cups go travelling. How cool would that be? No single use cups in Bondi. All of us walking around with mugs. I hope it happens one day. It truly would be wonderful. I think something like this would bring us all together because we’re all in it together. What an awesome community that would be.

Stepping into the not-for-profit scene taking on all things marketing. Advocating for the war on waste through engagement and collaboration, copywriting and coffee puns. A surviving university student, chronic coffee drinker and delighted to be a part of a female-led initiative!

Ashlyn Brown

Responsible Cafes