Waiheke Washpitality: The Ultimate Reuse Scheme Utilising Repurposed Jars

By Ethically Kate

What do you get when you combine a pack of passionate-planet-protecting-people, a seriously strong sterilisation system, and hundreds of repurposed glass jars.

If you guessed ‘Waiheke Washpitality’, you deserve a gold star.

Waiheke Washpitality is Waiheke Island’s very own reuse system, and it goes like this:

  1. Forgot your reusable cup when you visit a restaurant or cafe on Waiheke island?

  2. Ask for a Washpitality jar. It will be plain, or groovy with a hand crocheted heat cover.

  3. Once you’ve finished your delicious beverage, drop your jar off to the place you were given it, or into one of the dropboxes around the island.

  4. Highfive yourself. You didn’t create waste, and you kept the jar in the system for others to reuse!

  5. Think of the wonderful team behind the scenes of this process, who ensure your returned jar is cleaner than your grandmother’s window sills, before they send it back out into the community.

If you need a moment to absorb how radically simple but brilliant this system is, I understand.

*Take a moment here*

In an effort to comprehend how this system-of-my-dreams works practically, and if people really do use it, I sat down with members of the Waiheke Washpitality team; Kayleigh and Carys.

Carys (Left) Kayleigh (Right)
Carys (Left) Kayleigh (Right)

Turns out, like all good ideas in 2020, this simple waste-busting scheme was colluded during lockdown. Kayleigh and Carys explained that it was a natural birth, led by the many frustrations they had with composting commercially compostable cups on the island (which still occurs, but now much less!), along with the difficulty of bringing an already established reuse scheme to the island. Creating an independent reuse scheme was the obvious solution to battling single-use serviceware packaging.

“There’s already been a lot of (sustainability) work done on Waiheke. We are always trying to push that sustainability is the norm, and the strong backbone of the local community is big enough to get behind something like this,” says Kayleigh.

So...

BAM. After lots of tedious jar de-labelling and a crucial alliance with local business Plastic-Free Pantry, it happened. The use of PFP’s sterilisation system (which already exists to service their own pantry staples reusable jar system), was the final missing part of the puzzle and makes this project possible.

Carys with the stunning sterilisation system.
Carys with the stunning sterilisation system.

You’re probably thinking “cool concept Kate”, but how big is it? Do people actually drink coffees in jars?

Starting out with 3 cafes just a month ago, Washpitality jars are now found in 8 restaurants, cafes, a petrol station and the beloved Ostend Markets. “We don’t have enough jars to reach demand!” Carys, the human responsible for jar collection and distribution, has the massive challenge of keeping up with the demand from local businesses who want to join the reusables train and “kick the refusables!”

“We are genuinely surprised at how well jars were received by the community!”

Although the general verdict seems to be positive, I asked Kayleigh and Carys about the potential resistance from community and local vendors. They replied, “There are always going to be restaurants that are more resistant than others. Some vendors say “get rid of it (it = disposable cups) all NOW”, some restaurants don’t even push it.”

Kayleigh made a great point when she explained why they’ve been having such a positive public response to a system that is so different from the usual linear, throwaway one. “We are offering a solution to an extreme problem instead of just educating about it.”

Even though this system makes sense to most Waiheke locals and most people with their head screwed on, it hurts to hear some businesses aren’t keen to even consider it because it may jeopardize their aesthetics. Urgh.

However, it makes me jump for joy in my sustainably made ugg boots to envisage the 500 jars already in circulation. The icing on the cake is that Palm Beach Store are making their way towards using the jars to contain their goodies!

There will come a time when stackable reusable cups will need to be added to the cup circulation alongside the donated jars to make this system fully scalable, but right now all jars are donated from the public. Most of them are dropped into Plastic-Free Pantry's drop box (or treasure chest; whatever you wish to call it) which is pictured below.

Plastic-Free Pantry's Drop Box
Plastic-Free Pantry's Drop Box

Whenever I meet crazy ambitious people running systems outside of the norm, I always wonder; why them? What makes them keep on going, even when they're stuck scrubbing labels off jars or battling resistance from restaurants who don't want a bar of it? So, I asked...

“I have a dream of a single-use free Waiheke Island,” proclaimed Carys. Kayleigh agreed, and emphasised her excitement that comes from avoiding the “soul crushing” feeling of seeing so many single-use items after an event. It was Carys who eloquently said: “It’s SO doable. We can all see a year ahead of what this can look like and how it can run. It just needs to be. We can’t just keep getting away as human beings and not giving a crap about the environment.”

For those of you legends who are looking to start your own local reusable scheme, here are Kayleigh and Carys’ tips:

  • Do it. Don’t wait until you have a certain amount of cafes on board or a certain number of jars. DO IT.

  • Set up the practicalities first, and run with the rest.

  • Having a sterilisation system is crucial.

  • Your biggest problem will be having enough jars: get LOTS of them.

If you are on Waiheke Island and want to help:

  • Ask your local coffee place “do you have a reusable option?” Direct them to Waiheke Washpitality!

  • BYO cup, jar, container, and cutlery.

  • Drop de-labelled jars off to Plastic-Free Pantry or The Waiheke Resources Trust Sustainability Centre.

  • Talk about Waiheke Washpitality with your friends and family.

Word on the street is that you can now get Italian pasta and salads in Washpitality jars.

I’m planning my trip to Waiheke already.

Find Waiheke Washpitality on Instagram and email the team below if you are able to help or are a business who wants to join the system.

Kayleigh: kayleigh@wrt.org.nz
Carys: ctempler@hotmail.co.uk

If your community would like to adapt or begin a system like this, get in touch with UYO via the big raspberry button at page top ~ Contact WASHPITALITY AOTEAROA. Through their sister organisation, Washpitality Aotearoa, UYO are keen to support, fund and advice any who would like to create change within their community in this way.