Victorians are obsessed with good coffee. But our daily habit could be doing more damage than we think. Australians use an estimated one billion disposable coffee cups each year. Most cups have a thin plastic layer and cannot be recycled.
Reusable takeaway cups (Keep Cups) are now available, but some people find them inconvenient or dislike the taste and smell of plastic Keep Cups. They may also not know that their disposable cup is ending up in landfill.
“According to our survey, 68 per cent of residents don’t know that most disposable coffee cups are not recyclable.” said Michelle Kearns, Waste Education Officer at East Gippsland Shire Council.
“Making a switch to something new can seem hard. We wanted to make people aware of this environmental time bomb and then introduce a Keep Cup to see if they would keep using it.
“We chose a good quality, latte-style Keep Cup made from glass, not plastic.
“We approached nine cafés in Orbost and Paynesville. We gave each business about 40 Keep Cups coloured to match their café.
“The cafés asked their regulars if they wanted to be part of the project, with the proviso that they complete a survey now and at the end of the project.
Each cup came with a branded reward card that earned them a treat on their eighth stamp – usually a free or discounted coffee, or a biscuit or scone. Keep Cuppers could use any reusable cup to earn rewards.
Businesses kept a tally of coffees sold in disposable and reusable cups.
“To make people more aware of the environmental impact of disposable cups, we put posters and signs across town and in cafés. We ran information sessions for café staff, so they could chat to customers about the project.
“We put posters up at out council service centres and created displays from discarded coffee cups. We also promoted the project at various events such as the 2017 East Gippsland Field Days.
“We used advertising and media releases to extend the reach of the project was extended through.
Over the life of the project, cafés recorded 3,343 disposable cups saved from landfill.
Most businesses embraced the Keep Cup. At the start, some cafés saw reusable cups as dirty and inconvenient, especially when busy. After learning about the environmental impact and using the cups every day, their perception changed, and they were much happier to receive the cups over the counter.
Cafés also reported throwing away less cup waste during the project.
Four businesses said they would keep going with their reward program and one said they planned to start selling their own branded Keep Cups.
The community response was overwhelmingly positive with 97 per cent agreeing that the project had effectively spread messages on the problems caused by disposable cups.
The glass is a fantastic material to keep clean and is quite strong. It has survived being carried it in my handbag. I was able to show it to friends and promote the project, and they were attracted to the project simply by liking the cup, even if they hadn't thought about the environmental considerations.
– Emma Cheasley, a local resident and lucky Keep Cup owner
“We ran the project in two small towns, which meant we needed to sell the project to most of the available cafés. Some cafés were really enthusiastic, and we got great results with lots of repeat use of the cups.
“Others lost interest around the halfway mark. They didn’t always tally the coffees during busy periods and did not return the final surveys.
“So, we lost valuable feedback from this. In a larger town with more businesses to choose from, you could get better buy-in by advertising the project and letting businesses that were genuinely interested come to you.
“A digital recording system at the point of sale could make it easier to tally the cups.
“We did get some complaints from residents that wanted to get involved but couldn’t get hold of a Keep Cup. They didn’t realise we were running a limited project. So, that was a positive kind of negative feedback!”
“We monitored waste in towns using litter surveys. But rainy and windy weather and only working office hours affected our data as we couldn’t get a true picture of litter on the weekends. Next time we would need more flexibility around litter survey times to capture better data.”
“Although we don’t plan to run the project again at this stage, we certainly had a lot of interest from residents and other cafés. Hopefully, some cafés will keep promoting reusable cups and we’ll see some momentum from that.
“Our love of coffee isn’t likely to change, but if we can get people to see the environmental impact of disposable cups, we should see some positive behaviour change that makes our coffee habit more sustainable for the future.
“We will post a case study on the council website for other organisations wishing to replicate the project.”
Contact Michelle Kearns, Waste Education Officer at East Gippsland Shire Council on (03) 5153 9500 or email email@example.com
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