moving away from plastic & paper

Blue Bottle Coffee is in the news this week (h/t once again to my friend Karen), as it announced that it is undertaking a series of operational changes with the goal to be zero waste by end of 2020.

The drive starts with pilots in two San Francisco Bay area shops to eliminate single use cups, which they hope to roll out throughout their entire chain.

A company blog post from their CEO announcing the changes contains some frank comments, including an admission that current efforts just aren’t cutting it:

We recently woke up to the fact that our beautiful bioplastic cups and straws were not being composted even though they were 100 percent compostable. Too many ended up in landfills, where they couldn’t break down at all. So we switched to paper straws and sugarcane-paper cups. But that’s still not enough. We still go through on average 15,000 disposable single-use cups per cafe per month in the US alone, which adds up to 12 million cups per year.

-Bryan Meehan, CEO, Blue Bottle Coffee

In addition to the aim to ditch single use cups entirely, which will include offering reusable cups which will require a deposit, Blue Bottle will switch sales of its beans from bags to bulk, and grab-and-go items in reusable containers.

What’s refreshing about Meehan’s message is the clear admission that this move may not work, and will likely cost them customers, but is worth undertaking.

The move comes amidst a growing tide of efforts to reduce plastic waste in particular. Many jurisdictions impose special usage taxes on plastic shopping bags, if not banning them altogether, and some have started to ban the use of single use plastics in food service, including Berkeley, CA, as mentioned in the article referenced at the top. Recycling efforts are no longer seen as the only solution, given a combination of factors which include reduced demand from China for recycling collections and growing realization that many recyclable goods are ending up in landfill, despite near universal community recycling collections in the US. Plastic waste is a growing problem particularly for the world’s seas, with vast swirls of plastic detritus found in most oceans, causing harm to fish and other marine life.

I’m not going to lecture anyone on the environment or being wasteful (if I haven’t just done so). I will say that there are plenty of great options for getting your own reusable cups, and as I mentioned here before I have two myself, from KeepCup and kleen kanteen. Fellow Products offers a beautiful reusable cup which, unlike mine, can be sealed fully, and I’ve always liked the aesthetics of Yeti’s Rambler drinkware, and there are a million other options out there in a wide variety of materials, form factors, sizes and colors.

clockwise from top L: Fellow’s Carter Everywhere Mug 12oz; kleen kanteen’s 8oz insulated tumbler; KeepCup’s Cork 6oz; Yeti’s Rambler drinkware line (images from product websites)

In some parts of the world cafes give a discount or other benefit to those who bring their own cup, baristas seem to appreciate it, and depending on your cup you leave behind the problem of your coffee being too hot to hold or needing to use a paper sleeve. Spillages may be less likely, again depending on the cup, and many people (myself included) aren’t fans of drinking from that little slot on the top.

Maybe carrying your own little adult sippy cup with you will help save the world, maybe it won’t, but it just may be worth the effort.

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