By Justin Bonsey, founder of Responsible Cafes
Next time you go out, doesn’t matter where – to your local café, mall, office, beach or barbeque, count how many disposable coffee cups you see. Chances are you’ll see the very best of what convenience has to offer: paper cups, plastic cups, styrofoam cups, and those not-quite-paper, not-quite-plastic who-knows-what-it-is coffee cups.
Last week, this is exactly what I did. Bravely overlooking plastic bags tornado-ing through the streets in the jet stream of speeding taxis and cigarette butts teetering on the edge of storm drains, I counted 113 disposable coffee cups in 15 minutes; gripped protectively by cool cafe-goers, sipped in a hurry by folks in suits, rolling in gutters and busting from rubbish bins.
113 seemed a lot until I did the maths and realised this is about the number used in Australia every 4 seconds.
Contrary to popular belief, they are not recycled. Takeaway coffee cups are lined on the inside with a plastic film, making them notoriously difficult to recycle. And most never even make it there no matter what bin you put them in because recycling streams are usually contaminated by supposedly ‘compostable’ or ‘biodegradable’ cups and lids that never actually compost or biodegrade because most places don’t have the infrastructure to do it.
So after a many-thousand-kilometre journey from forest to refinery to distributor to mouth, they are used for a few minutes and simply thrown away to remain in landfill for a thousand years to come. Many even end up in the ocean where they break up into small bits that marine life mistake for food, claiming countless lives. From trees to oil to water to waste, these cups are quietly leaving their mark on Australian culture and the environment to the tune of 1 billion landfilled and littered every year.
But this is changing fast, and the solution is so easy it’s almost laughable. BYO coffee cups! It doesn’t matter what it is – a mug from home or the office, a fancy glass and cork cup even a glass jar with a lid will do the job.
What started a few years ago with a small group of people who got tired of picking up a seemingly endless stream of cups and lids from their local beach and streets has now spread in to a movement. Driven by the Responsible Cafes initiative, there are 450 cafes, 26 councils, dozens of environment and community groups, and countless volunteers all committed to spreading the BYO word.
Responsible Cafes is building a culture of reuse by connecting cafes and coffee lovers based on a simple idea: BYO cup and get a discount. Cafes offer customers with BYO cups a small discount (usually 30-50c, some up to $1 off), creating loyalty among anyone keen to save a cup or a buck, while coffee lovers get their fix for less. Every cafe gets listed on a national map so if you have your cup ready but don’t know where to take it, find your nearest participating cafe here .
Ok, so you have your cup, you’ve told all your friends and family to grab theirs, but you want to do more, what’s next?
- Start a conversation with your local cafe, or all your local cafes! Tell them about the issue, how they can be part of the solution and to register as a Responsible Cafe
- Tell your council to join the program and to roll it out to all local cafes
- Chat with cafes close to where you work, get your office on board and challenge your colleagues to never use a disposable cup again
- Get social and spread the message far and wide
- Take the War on Waste survey and share how you feel Australia manages waste and how you manage waste in your household
Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. Every cup, every coffee, every day makes a difference. Until state governments are ready to ban them, it’s up to us to be the change we want to see. And it’s happening, so get ready to lift the lid on coffee cups!