Environmentally Friendly: KeepCup.

“If I would not use a new baby bottle every time I fed my child, why would I do the same for a coffee cup?”

This is what Australian Abigail Forsyth, owner of Bluebag cafes in Melbourne, thought when she decided to create her product, the KeepCup. Frequenting coffee shops on the regular, I could not agree more. In American culture, getting coffee to go is a very common part of one’s day. The amount of to-go cups I see consumers go through in every coffee shop is astounding.

A woman smiles while sitting holding a glass coffee cup, open plan office through window in background.

“I thought, ‘this is revolting’, there is so much packaging that is just being wasted.”

-Abigail Forsyth

In 2008, KeepCup was first manufactured in Melbourne, Australia, where the coffee industry is booming. Disturbed by the amount of waste that customers produced, the KeepCup was created with both the customer and the barista in mind. Most re-usable cups at the time were a hassle for baristas to use, because the height and width of the cups were usually not compatible with the spouts of espresso machines. There is nothing more discouraging than to go to a coffee shop and asking to use your own cup, then seeing the barista roll their eyes at you. But Forsyth thought, if we could create a cup that baristas would be cool with, then customers leave with the feeling that they did something right. So she created a cup that had the width compatible with coffee machines, in sizes that common drinks came in, namely 4oz, 6oz, 8 oz, 12 oz and 16 oz. A band is placed on every cup which mimics coffee sleeves and prevents customers from burning their hands on their hot beverages. The lid to the cup has an optional cover so that the sipping hole can be completely covered and then tossed into your bag, making it a great portable option.

Originally made from PP, LDPE and silicone, there are now glass options with cork bands, since a lot of Americans did not embrace the plastic material that the KeepCups were made of. Although they were very mindful of the plastic materials they were using to manufacture their cups, a lot of Americans were wary of all plastics, especially those containing hot beverages, after the BPE scare. Listening to her consumers and hoping to increase the use of reusable cups globally, she created the cup that I choose to carry around, to calm people’s concerns about the emission of toxins in plastic products.

Ever since its creation, the KeepCup has gained popularity, but not as much as we would hope, especially in the U.S.  This could partly be explained by the fact that the coffee culture boomed in the U.S. before a barista-friendly re-usable cup was produced, making Americans accustomed to their usual disposable cups. Breaking a habit is much more difficult than creating one. In an interview with Drift magazine, Forsyth proposed a way to make this trend more globally widespread by introducing KeepCups to countries such as China, which are on the brink of starting their coffee boom. If we could get people to embrace it early on and create a habit, it could really make a difference in the long run.

Others say they would prefer to carry the cups of the shops they frequent, with their logos and labels on it, as a way to show others, “This is where I like to get my coffee, but I am too busy to stay there and drink it.” Hearing this, KeepCup has started partnering with coffee businesses to imprint their logo onto their cups. You can usually walk into a coffee shop in Southern California and find a KeepCup on their shelves with their signature logo on the front. But even this isn’t enough. You are more likely to see these cups on the shelves rather than in a customer’s hand. What we find is that most people claim to be ethically conscious and express interest in such a product, but then reach for that disposable cup when they are at the cafe.

I think that the major reason why the KeepCup has not taken off in the United States is due to our particular culture and mindset. Countries such as Australia, Germany, and New Zealand are more environmentally aware, especially with the legal banning of Styrofoam, to-go containers, plastic and harmful chemicals cropping up here and in other parts of the world. It’s safe to say that America lags a little behind other countries when it comes to leaving behind a green footprint. When Americans were asked why they would not carry a disposable cup, the consensus is that they view a disposable cup as an inconvenience. To remember to carry a disposable cup every time they go to get coffee is too much work. The honest truth is that it isn’t any more work than remembering to take your wallet with you or a jacket when it’s cold. Lack of interest in decreasing waste in general is common in the United States. It’s the mentality of, “We can’t stop global warming, so why bother try?”

Here’s the bad news:

  • Half of the plastic used in the world today is for single use disposable items.
  • Every minute, over one million disposable cups are discarded to the landfill.
  • In the United States alone, 58 billion disposable cups are thrown out annually, with the majority ending up in the landfill. That is, 158 disposable cups for every U.S. inhabitant.
  • The 500 billion disposable cups used in the world each year placed end to end could circumnavigate the earth 1,360 times.
  • World paper use has exploded by 400% in the last 40 years. Now nearly 4 billion trees of 35% of the total trees chopped down are used in paper industries on every continent.
  • Very little recycled paper is used to make disposable cups because of contamination concerns. Because most disposable cups are coated with plastic, both composting and recycling of disposable cups is uncommon. Most disposable cups are lined with polyethylene which makes them non-recyclable. Disposable cups that are “compostable” require commercial composting to biodegrade.
  • Urban rubbish has increased ten-fold over the course of the 20th century, from 92 to 1242 pounds of pure product waste per person per year. At this rate, we discard approximately 14.4 times our body weight in waste every year.

But there is also good news.

The KeepCup compared to a disposable paper cup (including coffee) sees a 36-47% reduction in global warming carbon emissions, 64-85% reduction in water use, 91-92% reduction in landfill waste annually. Over one year, the KeepCup, when compared to disposable cups, reduces landfill by at least 99%, greenhouse gas emissions by up to 92%, and reduces water use by up to 90%. You can monitor the amount of disposable cups you save from the landfill with Reuse HQ, a program KeepCup started to better monitor the progress it was making. And the best news of all. Most people open up to the idea of using a KeepCup when they see others using it. I get questions every day from baristas and consumers alike asking where I got my “cool” cup. Some people in line or baristas behind the counter pipe up and answer for me or tell me of their own alternatives. What it does is it starts a conversation. I learn new alternatives to re-usable containers (today I learned about HuskeeCup) and people learn of the benefits of using any re-usable cup. Awareness and inspiration are what we need most. Actions speak louder than words, and I can’t think of a better way to show the world the impact one cup can make than to carry it around with me at all times. I can spit out facts all day, but most people will brush it off and continue with their usual routine. It isn’t until we do what changes we say we want to see that perspectives shift ever so slightly towards the right direction.

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