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illustration of various cups, mugs and jars

A mug library is a great way to encourage your community to embrace reusables. A collection of mugs, cups or jars for people to borrow and return (like a library), instead of using single-use. It's especially handy for those regulars who forget their own reusables (you know the ones) or for people who come in for an unexpected takeaway.



We all know single-use cups are a massive environmental issue. Which is why you're reading this mug library guide. You're worried about the volume of single-use cups that your business is using and you're looking for solutions.

Thank you for taking this first step, it's one of the hardest.

Now that you're here (thank you again) the next biggest hurdle to implementing a mug library or reusable network is our attitude towards them. Once we really choose to implement one (wholeheartedly) they work.

Choosing your model

'Mug Libraries' come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, with funding & management models equally as diverse, as diverse as each cafe in your local area.

Which means there is a model that will suit your situation.

1. Classic Mug library

The classic mug library is an eclectic mix of fun, funny and random mugs you might find at the op shop or hidden at the back of your cupboard.

They're also the easiest to implement, because unused mugs are easy to get your hands on.

2. # jarlife

Let's get real here. The jar library is what all the cool kids are doing these days. Not only can they look fun and stylish but they're great for on-the-go because you can pop the lid on for zero leakage.

Oh and no big deal, (except it is a big deal) they're a reuse item too and recyclable at end of life. Jar's are often up-cycled peanut butter or jam jars. They're also easily sterilised and washed, making them perfect for coffee on the go.

3. Formal reuse networks

Time to get formal. Reusable coffee cup networks are becoming increasingly accessible, with container schemes also popping up all over the country.

A reusable network is designed for uniformity across cup sizes, are stackable on top of your coffee machine and are setup with incredible ease.

For more details on reusable networks, click here.


Get your mug/jar collection started
  • If using jars, first decide the size/volume of jar (e380g peanut butter jars are perfect for 12oz coffee or smaller, & pasta sauce or pickle jars are great for cold drinks)

  • Raid your cupboards at home and ask your staff to do the same.

  • Post on social media asking your followers if they would like to donate mugs or jars (this not only helps build the collection but also involves your community, giving them the opportunity to participate in the initiative).

  • If using jars, de-labelling them. This is the least fun part of this process, not gonna lie. We encourage you to ask that donations come label free, saving you a lot of time.

  • If using mugs, organise an op-shop visit. You can also post about your op-shop excursion on social media to promote the initiative and bring people along on the journey. You don't need to spend a fortune, a small budget will suffice. It'll be a lot less than you spend on single-use.

Displaying your collection
  • We recommend displaying on the public side of the counter, so people can choose their own mug/jar and it doesn't clog up your workspace.

  • Pick a spot where they can be seen and used easily, there's no point hiding them in the corner. On a display shelf or in a basket works well (see pics above for inspiration).

  • Signage! Make a sign with clear instructions for your customers. Or you can download one of our signs to get you started.


Collecting returned mugs/jars & washing them

Make a station or box where your community can return used mugs. Sometimes they may come back dirty, don't fret. You'll need to be washing them before they're used again anyway, just like your dine-in cups, so work out a schedule for this with your staff.

Deposit or trust?

Loaning cups on trust is by far the most behaviour change inducing way to operate your library. It builds community, mutual respect & trust along the way, which our society could do with a whole lot more of.

People will forget to return cups, that’s a given. But gentle reminders and nudges on your social media and through clear communications will eventually see most cups returned.

We'd also recommend you consider adding a surcharge for single-use cups (like the supermarkets do for bags). Research has shown that surcharges encourage uptake of reusables faster than discounts for BYO.

Make it a part of your socials strategy

Instead of wasting time ordering single-use cups, use that time to shout out to your community on social media instead. Remind them to return the mugs or jars and invite them for a coffee at the same time (see below).

Partnership options with your community

If jars are your jam then you have some partnership options in retailing sleeves (these go around your jars to keep them insulated), perhaps with a local maker or craft group partnership to knit them. Alternatively, you can ask people to donate neoprene beer coolers.

With mugs you could partner with a local op shop and sell mugs on their behalf, raising money for their charity.


Congratulations on your new committed relationship with reusable cups/mugs/jars!

Now is the time to shout about it from the rooftops.

The first people you should be telling:

  • Your staff

  • Your business partner/s

  • Your regulars

  • Your social media followers

  • Your local zero waste / plastic free groups (you can find them usually on Facebook)

  • Your local media

  • Your local government (most love to share stories like this through their local news)

And if you're on of our Plastic Free Places members, please reach out to us we'd love to support you (or join here).


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