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Tuesday, May 11, 2021
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Reusable coffee cups slowly return to Canberra cafés

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease and the local hospitality sector progresses toward something resembling regular operations, Canberra’s cafés have slowly begun accepting reusable cups again, albeit under strict protocols around cleanliness.

General manager of Australia-wide not-for-profit initiative, Responsible Cafés, Jo Horsley told Canberra Weekly that so long as several measures relating to general cleanliness are in place, reusable cups can be administered safely in cafés.

Ms Horsley cited a recent report cosigned by 125 scientists saying they support “reuse and fighting back on the plastics industry for using this (pandemic) to their benefit”.

“We don’t want to pressure cafés into feeling unsafe. The main thing is that there are ways around this,” she said.

“Our three calls to action are always make sure your cup is clean/don’t turn up with a dirty cup; encourage café to establish contactless pour method on counter where they can place cup; if a café is still not accepting reusable cups, we’re encouraging consumers to go topless – plastic lids are unnecessary.”

Ms Horsley said while many cafés have chosen to offer compostable disposable cups, unless they go to a commercial composting waste facility they won’t decompose and will end up in landfill.

General manager of Frankies at Forde, Mark Ramsay, told Canberra Weekly that once COVID-19 restrictions began taking place, they reintroduced disposable cups “as a business survival mechanism”.

In July 2017, Frankies at Forde became the first Canberra café to stop using disposable coffee cups altogether.

Mr Ramsay was happy to start accepting reusable cups again once there were no active cases of COVID-19 in Canberra, with safety measures in place for staff ensuring they sanitise hands whenever they handle cups.

Sustainability manager at Local Press Wholefoods, Olivia St-Laurent, told Canberra Weekly they have been accepting reusable coffee cups at both of their premises for the past few weeks.

“It was our customers that made us make the switch,” she said.

Earlier in the pandemic, Ms St-Laurent said Local Press had noticed particularly strong uptake in the ACT Government endorsed Green Caffeen program.

Green Caffeen is a reusable cup-swapping program where customers sign up via a mobile app and use and return the cups free of charge to any participating café.

“It was the next best alternative,” she said.

Ms St-Laurent said Green Caffeen was “great during COVID”, as Local Press were able to set up a bin where customers would drop their cups to be washed, and then be given their coffee in fresh, cleaned ones.

“It eased all worries about cleanliness,” she said.

coffee bag - people made coffee at home rather than taking reusable cups to cafes during pandemic
ONA coffee saw home orders increase by about 300% in March and April, which means that more people than ever were preparing their coffee at home.

Rise in disposable cups met with drop in demand at height of pandemic

On 16 May, ONA coffee began accepting reusable cups again, in line with the announcement at the time that cafés could reopen to 10 customers concurrently.

The policy across all ONA venues is that they are not accepting dirty cups, staff are to use hand sanitiser before and after handling reusable cups, and customers are encouraged to participate in swap-cup programs so new cups are handled with each coffee.

ONA marketing manager, Jordan Montgomery, said while at the height of the pandemic their use of disposable products increased out of necessity, the general trade across all cafés was significantly lower than normal – meaning net lower consumption of disposable products.

“Restricting our venues to takeaway only, plus not offering any reusable cups, meant that the amount of single-use cups, cutlery and takeaway bags/boxes absolutely skyrocketed,” he said.

“At the height of the pandemic, we saw up to an 80% decrease in weekly trade across some of our venues, as well as our wholesale business,” he said.

But as trade at their cafés plummeted, ONA observed a “huge surge” in the amount of online home orders to the tune of a 300% increase in March and April.

“More people than ever were preparing their coffee at home (presumably in their own cups),” Mr Montgomery said.

“For every person ordering a 200g bag of coffee for home, it probably saved about 10 single use cups from going into a bin.”

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