takeaway coffee cups image: Jekaterina Budryte
image: Jekaterina Budryte

The move to rid cafes of plastics in takeaway coffee cups is gathering steam with innovative business jumping in with alternative solutions and competition between the major cities heating up. Landlords are taking note.

Although many environmentally conscious coffee consumers are now in the habit of bringing their reusable cups, emerging solutions to Australia’s coffee cup waste problem may take the pressure off coffee drinkers to change their behaviour.

This includes innovations by providers of containers that can quickly decompose and some landords turning to lease clauses for retail food tenants to encourage a transition.

Takeaway coffee cups remain a high-profile waste item due to the autonomy an individual has over their coffee-drinking habits, and their popularity.

Disposable coffee cups are also one of the most misunderstood waste items. This is because the plastic lining inside takeaway cups that keeps hot liquid contained makes them difficult to recycle, meaning most end up in landfill irrespective of what bin they are placed in.

Even cups that are labelled as biodegradable or compostable often cause contamination in recycling plants because most facilities aren’t equipped to deal with them.

As such, players in Australia’s cafe culture have responded with a range of innovative solutions to stop the three billion disposable cups that Australians use each year ending up in landfill.

Takeaway coffee cups can be composted and it costs less than landfill

Although consumers are starting to change their coffee-drinking behaviour in favour of reusable cups, there are other options emerging that allow patrons to continue to enjoy the convenience of disposable coffee cups.

Environmentally friendly food packaging provider BioPak has set up an end-to-end composting service for coffee cups and other food packaging items aimed at diverting food scraps and packaging from landfill.

The new composting service is being rolled out across Australia and New Zealand, with Perth cafés among the early adopters.

Customers will be able to dispose of used coffee cups and compostable takeaway food packaging in BioPak compost bins located in participating cafes and workplaces.

Every week compost bins will be collected and sent to commercial facilities to be composted. After eight weeks, the compost is ready for use in gardens and commercial-level agriculture.

This will keep food scraps from going to landfill, where they decompose and release methane.

BioPak claims the cost to compost is less than the cost to dispose of it in landfill, with Perth cafe Yelo claiming that the service will save them 20 per cent a year in waste bills.

Compostable products are preferable to biodegradable options, as biodegradable materials disintegrate over a number of years into smaller pieces., and can contaminate other waste streams.

Other innovative options include cups you can eat

Other solutions to the takeaway coffee cup problem include cups that allow the inner plastic lining to separate easily during the recycling process, edible cups, and collective reusable cup schemes that allow customers to return cups to collection points where they are cleaned and redistributed to participating outlets.

Packaging company Detpak will soon introduce takeaway coffee cups in Australia that have linings that the consumer can easily remove from the paper so that they can be recycled locally.

Consumers using the “RecycleMe” cups are asked to drain leftover liquid from the cup, separate the liner, and place the cup into recycling bins.

It’s also understood that AMP Capital, for instance, is looking at inserting lease clauses at its Quay Quarter development at Circular Quay in Sydney for its retail food court to eliminate plastics altogether, by looking to suppliers such as Globelet and Biopak to supply containers for both coffee and food that can turn into soil within 21 days.

Changing consumer behaviour still important

For now, encouraging consumers to bring their own reusable coffee cups remains critical.

According to Zoe Baker, sustainability programs, CitySwitch Green Office, best practice in behaviour change takes an interdisciplinary approach and no single model is appropriate for all problems.

CitySwitch recently ran a workplace campaign to reduce waste and save money through the Choose.Reuse campaign. The campaign messaging ties the coffee cup decision/action to a sense of self, professional identity and collective organisational identity and reputation, according to Ms Baker.

Cafes are also playing a key role in changing coffee-drinking behaviour by joining the Responsible Cafes movement.

Recent figures released by the Responsible Cafes not-for-profit found that Brisbane City cafes were leading the charge with 229 cafes registered (it’s worth noting that Brisbane’s local government area encompasses almost all the metropolitan region of the city).

The City of Sydney came in second with 151 registered cafes, and the City of Melbourne third with 109.

Brisbane is “a way ahead”, according to Responsible Cafes operations manager Rachel Draper as reported in by Fairfax Media.

“I definitely noticed all of those registrations coming from Brisbane and we hope to work with Brisbane City Council for another campaign,” Ms Draper said.

Although the “conscious consumer” movement has been around since 2013, a mention on the ABC’s high profile War on Waste documentary series last year put the organisation on the map.

After the program aired the number of cafes involved nationally rose from 400 to 3750.

The movement encourages cafes to reduce the number of disposable coffee cups in circulation by offering a discount to customers with reusable takeaway cups.

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