Bondi locals keen for a takeaway latte will soon need to bring their own cup or use a mug library with several cafes banning single-use takeaway cups from December 1.
More than 30 Bondi venues have signed on for BYO Cup Week, which runs until December 10 and aims to change consumer habits around using disposable cups.
“I wanted to do something as a cafe community,” says Sondra Beram, owner of Bru Coffee in North Bondi and co-founder of BYO Cup Week with environmentalist and I Quit Sugar author Sarah Wilson.
“I believe in the power of numbers and that a community can do more together rather than one cafe. Plus, I’m just a little hole-in-the-wall takeaway joint – if I can do it, any cafe can do it. ‘It’s too hard’ isn’t an excuse.”
Other Bondi venues participating in the takeaway cup-free initiative include Gertrude & Alice, Porch & Parlour, Harry’s, Speedos, The Depot and Shuk.
Originally set to happen in Bondi in July, but postponed due to COVID lockdown, cafe communities in other suburbs have also volunteered to participate in BYO Cup Week after reading about the call-to-action on Beram and Wilson’s Instagram accounts.
Leichhardt has about 20 cafes banning cups for the 10-day-period and another 20 venues are on board across Avalon, Bilgola Beach and Newport, plus coffee spots in Manly and Thirroul.
Although disposable cups look like they are made of paper and recyclable, the majority contain plastics that don’t break down and are damaging to the environment.
According to the NSW Environment Protection Authority, 1 billion disposable coffee cups end up in landfill sites across Australia each year. It is estimated that Bondi contributes 75,000 cups a week to that annual total.
“I remember single-use cups taking off when I was editor of Cosmopolitan [in the mid-2000s],” says Wilson. “You would see pictures of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie walking around in cut-off shorts, carrying oversized Balenciaga handbags and takeaway coffee cups.
“Single-use cups started to become a fashion accessory, not just something you would grab if you were in a rush. Now you see people everywhere heading off to the gym and yoga with a takeaway cup … they’ve also replaced cigarettes as a prop for television actors to have in their hand.”
Gertude & Alice owner Jane Turner says that before the pandemic, about 70 per cent of her cafe’s takeaway coffees were poured in a reusable cup.
Post-COVID, that number has dropped to 40 per cent, largely due to misinformation that BYO cups were more likely to transmit the coronavirus between barista and customer.
“Now it’s just a matter of encouraging more people to bring their reusable cups back to cafes,” says Turner. “We need to start breaking the habit of single-use cups again and we need to start now.”
Turner and Beram also have mug libraries for customers caught without a reusable cup and don’t have time to sit down for a coffee.
“A lot of customers actually end up taking their library mug home and falling in love with it,” says Beram. “It becomes their own kind of KeepCup.
“The perfect scenario would be for people to be able to walk down the road with their coffee and leave the empty library mug at another cafe, while people walking up the street can leave their mug with us. A rotating mug library, that’s the dream.”
The popularity of BYO Cup Week means Beram and Wilson are now running low on promotional T-shirts and posters, but they encourage cafes everywhere to get behind the initiative on December 1. Venues don’t have to officially register to support the single-use cup ban.
“I’m now thinking we will try and get rid of disposable cups for a whole month in Plastic Free July,” says Beram. “Ideally, I want cafes to stop using them completely, but coming out COVID, no one wants to turn away business just yet.”
Wilson hopes BYO Cup Week will inspire more people around Australia to ditch disposable cups and lead to government support for a reduction in their use too.
“Actions are contagious, and while some people will say the effect of consumer behaviour on the environment is nothing compared to the big fossil fuel companies, every study shows that our engagement sends a signal to those companies,” she says.
“That in turn sends a message to the government. We want to get this movement off the ground at a community level, but we also need local councils, state and federal government to back it with incentives and legislation. We’re too addicted to plastic to get rid of these cups on our own.”