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15th October, 2019

Should your café consider ditching single-use plastic?

Plastic straws and bags are killing wildlife while people are drinking (and inhaling) an increasing amount of microplastics each day. What can your café do to help wean humanity off its single-use plastic addiction?

As a café owner, there’s no denying that there is an industry-wide shift to more sustainable practices when it comes to the products used to serve customers each day.

Unfortunately, with all the talk about the harm of single use plastics, the need for sustainably sourced ingredients and replacing everything you have with biodegradable or re-usable options; it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to feel a little bit stuck as to where to start.

The first thing to remember is that the path to positive change doesn’t have to be walked overnight and every single step in the right direction is one that helps the environment.

The benefits of using plastic items are undeniable. They’re cheap, strong and convenient, but since the 1950s, the production of plastic items has outpaced almost every other material on the planet.

Unfortunately though, plastic doesn’t break down and in fact, 32 percent of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced each year makes its way into the ocean, the equivalent of pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.


Audit what you’re using


A great start for your café is to audit all of the single use items that you use and to look at options of reducing those or doing away with them completely.

For example, plastic straws can easily be swapped for their paper or bamboo counterparts. To go even further, many cafes are finding success in offering dine-in customers metal, reusable straws which are simply cleaned before being used again.

For plastic cutlery or packaging, biodegradable options are now available at almost every hospitality supplier and, thanks to the demand, are now quite competitively priced. The options range from recyclable food containers in almost every size, to full sets of wooden cutlery.

Other cafés have introduced a ‘free refill’ station, which encourages customers to refill their water bottles instead of purchasing a new bottle, while others offer discounts for customers who bring their own ‘keep cup’ instead of using a disposable cup, the biggest ‘single use’ issue in the café industry.


Ditch the disposable cup


Every year an estimated 500 billion disposable cups are thrown away worldwide after a single use! That’s one million cups an hour and the number is growing.

Over 1.2 billion disposable coffee cups are used each year in Australia, 90 percent of which end up in landfill or littering the streets.

READ: 6 tips for building a sustainable hospitality business

Paper coffee cups are lined with plastic to make them waterproof. Although the paper outside will break down, the plastic inner won’t. To recycle them, they must be sent to a specialist recycling facility that is costly and complicated. Consequently only eight percent are recycled.

This equates to 2.7 million coffee cups in Australia going to landfill each day.

Ditching plastic straws and plastic cutlery seems like a simple thing to do, but when it comes to ditching takeaway cups, many cafés are worried about the effect it will have on their business and the options available to their customer.

Thankfully, some companies have understood this and identified a gap in the market for a product that works for the café’s functionality, but also is convenient for customers.


Make it easy for the customer


Damien Clarke, founder of Green Caffeen was tired of forgetting his cup with the common ‘bring your own cup’ system and decided to create something a little different.

The Green Caffeen system is a swap service, whereby customers receive their drink in a reusable cup and then have 30 days to return it to any café that is using the program, free of charge.

“We’ve found that cafes are getting pressured to make [sustainability focused] changes that are affecting their profitability, so we purposely designed Green Caffeen to help cafes make change, and in fact, the less take away cups that go out… the more dollars they have in their back pocket,” said Clarke.

With the reusable system, cafes not only offer a more environmentally focused solution for their customers, but also have the opportunity to increase their profit margin by doing away with disposables. It also allows the cafes to market their ‘forward thinking’ to their consumer and look to increase a loyal customer base.

“From our research, we knew that consumers were looking for better solutions and we’ve found that the businesses who are prepared to lead the way, by implementing initiatives such as Green Caffeen along with being conscious about the impacts their business is having, are being supported and championed by the consumer,” explained Clarke.

With Green Caffeen having served almost 65,000 cups of coffee in their cups already, it’s clear that the demand is there, and consumers are looking for easier ways to make more sustainable choices.

When it comes to implementing sustainable choices for your café, it’s important to take your time, do your own research and take things one step at a time.

We can all agree that single-use plastics have had their day, and as more and more companies rise to the challenge and create solutions designed to help cafes make the switch, making the right decisions for our planet will become a lot easier and more convenient.

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