Words VICKI RAVLICH-HORAN | Images BRYDIE THOMPSON

Remember the good old supermarket plastic bag? Low cost and super convenient. Oh, but yeah, that’s right, they weren’t that good for the environment. New Zealanders used 1.6 billion single-use plastic bags a year. Most were used not only once but for an average of just 12 minutes before being thrown away and ending up in our landfill and waterways. We knew this was the case, but back to that super convenient point.

Sure, there was a proportion of people who led the way and brought their own reusable bags. The likes of New World even tried to do the right thing and phase them out by charging people for plastic bags. The backlash had them relent and change the policy to giving people a discount for bringing their own. It took government policy to bring an end to our reliance on single use plastic bags.

Josie Evans at Excelso believes the same is needed to solve our love affair, or more accurately, our reliance, on takeaway cups. Like the plastic bag, the environmental impact of these is huge, yet we cling to the excuse that they are just so darn convenient.

Excelso pride themselves on their sustainability practices, yet the takeaway coffee cup issue is a huge thorn in their side. As coffee roasters and coffee makers, their business is to encourage people to buy and enjoy coffee, yet sending said coffee out in a single use cup is counter intuitive to the many sustainable practices they have implemented.

“A few years back,” Josie says, “we heavily promoted compostable takeaway cups as a solution and this is something I now regret.” The problem is compostable cups rarely get composted. Laura Cope from UYO says, “The emergence of ‘green’ single use packaging highlights the desperate desire of hospitality and their customers to do good.” Laura goes on to say, “Packaging companies have been taking advantage of these genuine desires to do better to peddle a product that they know has a hugely limited likelihood to be responsibly disposed of.” Efforts to continue this line of thinking and behaviour has seen collection bins for said composable cups being placed where you bought the coffee, but surely if you were to return the cup to the point of sale you could use a reusable cup!

“The bottom line,” Laura says, “is that using alternative materials does not negate the fact that single use is unsustainable at point of manufacture, or that it perpetuates throwaway culture, continuing the dangerous current status quo in thinking our personal convenience is the priority.”

This leads to businesses like Excelso who find themselves in the position of having to convince customers to care and to change their habits which, as Josie will attest, is not always an easy task.  Which is why Use Your Own Cup Fridays offers a great opportunity to raise awareness of the issue and, Josie says, “have those conversations with customers”.

There is no denying single use takeaway coffee cups are mighty convenient, and it is essentially these arguments people have when making excuses for not wanting to use an alternative, even though the Excelso team have created a solution for every one of your excuses.

Not got a reusable cup of your own? No problem, borrow one from their cup library.

Need a lid on that cup as you’re driving? They’ve thought of that too and got a range of upcycled jars perfect for the job.

Got a reusable cup but it’s dirty? Sweet, you can wash it in their wash station.

Like using a takeaway cup because you think it keeps your coffee warmer longer? It doesn’t by the way, but Excelso still have you covered with dinky cup warmers/holders made from old coffee sacks.

All that remains for excuses is you don’t care that your need for convenience is more important than the impact on the environment you are making. Laura says, “This must change, in all industries, in all areas of our lives. It is largely our addiction to personal convenience that creates the environmental circumstances which threaten the lives of others.”

The Excelso team are doing everything they can to change this, but as Josie points out, “Unless there is legislative change, we can only do so much.” So while we wait for the government to catch up, the onus is on us. Let’s follow the lead of businesses like Excelso and commit to doing the right thing. Or better still, why not ditch the takeaway coffee altogether and actually take a break to enjoy your daily cuppa. Sit down and enjoy it as it was meant to be. You’ll not only reduce your waste but likely your stress levels too.

Like the single use plastic bag, it’s hard for many people to see what harm their one takeaway cup each day is doing. Yet this one cup a day quickly adds up to over 300 a year. This is quickly multiplied by everyone you know in your office buying at least one takeaway coffee a day, if not more. While we could not find a definitive number of cups used and thrown away in New Zealand each year, this is estimated to be close to 3 million.

Use Your Own Cup Day is a national campaign spearheaded by UYO NZ, encouraging cafes to promote the use of using your own cup. The hope is by having these conversations and encouraging people to change their behaviour at least one day a week this will be habit forming and something people do all the time.

UYO NZ have a number of resources to help cafes. Go to www.uyo.co.nz

Excelso Coffee
112 Third Avenue west
Tauranga
www.excelso.co.nz

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