Responsible Cafes

Manager of The Full Pantry, Hannah Arnold. Photo: Simon Schluter

Feeling a little bit of enviro-guilt ordering your morning flat white from your favourite cafe in a disposable cup and plastic lid? You’re not alone. As cafes around the country gradually come back to life, owners and baristas are considering the return of keep cups. 

According to a study by the University of Melbourne, Australians are throwing away one billion paper coffee cups along with their plastic lids every year. That’s a lot of landfill. 

During COVID-19, reusable cups haven’t exactly been banned, but many cafes have refused to accept them choosing to use disposable cups instead, in a bid to protect their employees from potential contact from the disease.

Responsible Cafes

Barista Claire serves up a coffee in a keep cup at Something for Jess cafe in Chippendale. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

There’s no proven benefit to using disposable cups over keep cups, confirmed by infectious disease expert Sanjaya Senanayake, Associate Professor of Medicine at ANU. “The virus in experimental conditions can live up to three days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces,” he says. “Now even though it can live up to 72 hours it’s probably going to be more infectious in the first few hours. If you are the person who owns the keep cup then the risk to you is much less because you know if you’ve been sick or not. It’ll be more the perception of the server in the cafe.”

“If the person has not been sick, and the person has kept the cup clean… if all those criteria are met, then keep cups are safe.”  

Sarah Wilson, author and longtime waste ambassador, says the banning of keep cups was a little bit like the hoarding of toilet paper – it was pack mentality. “I think we’re all desperate to create a better world. A better new normal. And doing something simple like switching back to keep cups is really important.”

Responsible Cafes

You can use your Keep Cup again, but only if you’re not sick at all and it’s really clean. Photo: Simon Schluter

So we know the science is there and that keep cups are safe to use, what’s the next step? “This is an era where we’re very conscious about doing the right thing,” says Wilson. “And one of those things is make sure your keep cup is cleaned in really hot water. It’s a social contract of trust. Never take a dirty cup – that’s insulting and dangerous.”

Sydney cafe, Something for Jess, currently burns through 1000 disposable cups a month, but are looking into environmentally complimentary alternatives such as the recyclable cups from Detpak. Part owner Robert Campbell says “I’m really keen to get back to using the keep cups as long as it’s safe. The ownership comes up to individual responsibility. If the customer is doing the right thing and the cafe is doing the right thing then theoretically it’s safe and we can get back to using keep cups.”  

Hannah Arnold, manager at The Full Pantry cafe in Melbourne said, “We try really hard as a whole business to reduce our waste for the environment and eliminating disposable cups is a great way to do it, which is why two years ago we switched to reusable coffee cups only.

“When the pandemic hit, instead of switching to disposables, we devised a way to do a zero-contact coffee to manage any risk with accepting reusable cups. People were a little concerned, but once customers understood the contactless method meant only they touched their cup, they were sold. Overall we’ve found our customers are really happy we have a solution that’s safe for them, our staff, and the planet.”

For a full list of cafes around the country that will accept reusable cups, visit Responsible Cafes, who have responded to the call from waste-conscious cafes and customers to help revive reusable cups. 


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