Eden at Otago Poly - Single Use Free since forever

By Grace Tarbotton
Why is operating single use cup free important to you?
There are a few reasons why this matters to us. The first is reducing the footprint we leave on our planet – plain and simple. Secondly, we buy the cups for our mug library from the hospice shops in Dunedin, which is our way of giving a little bit back to the community. Not using single use cups also helps our customers to think about what else they could do – reducing takeaway containers etc. Lastly, we believe that coffee actually tastes better from a real cup! (It also feels better too, knowing you’re doing the right thing.)
What are the benefits for you as a business, and as a human, of being throwaway cup free?

The following benefits are what our team is passionate about and why we fight so hard to keep our single use wastage down.  
  • Future generations won’t be surrounded by plastic, and hopefully their environment will be better and cleaner.
  • Saving the trees that are cut down to make the cups – therefore making the oxygen better!
  • Saves the business money – we’re not buying as much packaging
  • Leaves room for higher quality products (keep cups, mugs etc)
  • Puts money back into the community via Hospice Shops and Keep Cup sales
  • Less toxins and glues leaking into our bodies from the cups when they get hot liquid poured into them
What has customer response been to your throwaway cup free status? How do you handle surprise/negativity/reluctance?
A majority of responses we’ve had are positive, but every now and then we get faced with a little bit of negativity or confusion – but we try to resolve this by explaining our intentions, the number of cups we’ve saved and what options we have for them (borrow mugs, borrow keep cups and keep cups for sale.) We also realise that customers have other options, because there are cafes in the vicinity that do offer takeaway cups and we appreciate them choosing us. We’re fortunate enough to be located within Otago Polytechnic, which means that our customers are mostly students and staff, and a high percentage of returning customers, which helps to eliminate the amount of complaints. In saying that, at the beginning of the year with a fresh intake of students, we are more likely to have people surprised about the lack of takeaway cups, but this also goes hand-in-hand with an increase in our keep cups sales (which always come with first coffee free.)
If our Government were to undertake a phase out and ban of single use coffee cups, how do you think that would hospo industry, overall?
If we think about the situation in comparison to New Zealand banning single-use plastic bags – a lot of people thought it was going to be the end of the world, but everyone adapted eventually. Having multiple options like eco-bags, paper bags and boxes from supermarkets helped people to adapt. In the same way, offering alternatives for single use coffee cups, such as mugs, keep cups and always having the option to dine in, will help people adjust.
Also you need to be aware the a large amount of your cups from a mug library will go missing and never return – but to me this is much better than single use cups going to landfill, and I hope that those mugs will end up somewhere where they will be used again – and buying them from a hospice shop means they’re usually cheap if you buy them in bulk.

Do you think that the implementation of government supported and funded, scalable alternatives is a necessary action to accompany a ban?

I believe that at first, government funded scalable alternatives are necessary to help businesses become accustomed to the changes, but eventually the costs of these will become a business’s responsibility. All businesses that supply single-use cups, have the money to pay for them – so why shouldn’t they then use this money to pay for the alternatives?
Do you find more people borrow from you (if you have a loan system in place), make time to stay or bring their own?

I would say most people have their own cup, but again – we’re lucky because most people have classrooms or offices where they can store them (in the same building as us) overnight, which means it’s very rare that they forget their cup. Also, a very large majority of our customers are returners, therefore they already know how we operate. In saying that it is probably a very close call, as I’d say we have a pretty even split between all three options. We sell a lot of keep cups at the beginning of the year, when the students first get here, as they realise that we don’t provide single-use cups. We sell three different types of keep cups, all at different price ranges – Frank Green, Cuppa Cup and baseline Eden Branded bamboo cups – all of which come with your first fill free.
What 3 pieces of advice would you give other vendors about making the change?
  1. Talk to your customers and warn them! Nobody likes change, but with a little warning the transition should be a bit easier.
  2. Have multiple reusable options in place to make the transition easier (borrow mugs, borrow keep cups and keep cups for sale – but also a different range of price points within those retail cups.)
  3. Don’t try to do it all at once, little steps make big changes. Start with cups. Then takeaway containers. Then switch to compostable paper plates and bags. Use them less and less – and always make sure your customers know that they’re welcome to bring their own containers.