There's plenty of good ideas for you to ‘borrow’ in your pursuit to reduce waste and reliance on single-use packaging. Some of those ideas have been created by businesses exactly like yours. They’ve taken the plunge first, so you don’t have to, you just get to copy and paste!
Below are some solutions you might like to copy. Keep in mind that these businesses started with small changes first, and it's those small changes that you can start today, then grow from.
The milk vat
Have you ever embarked on a project that continued to evolve and grow into something you never could have imagined? This is exactly what happened to Damien and Kate Nabbs, owners of Dejaxo Artisan Bakery and Cafe.
What started with an idea to make their own in-house gelato unexpectedly became a mission to rid their operations of single-use plastic milk bottles. In between was a lot of learning, trialling and still more trialling today.
Today, in a corner store style cafe on a leafy street, their Mt Hawthorn cafe and bakery is trialling their newest initiative, the milk vat. The milk vat sits atop the counter next to the coffee machine, filled with 100 litres of fresh milk sourced and produced by them.
But becoming a milk producer isn’t a simple task and it certainly isn’t something most cafes or restaurants want to embark upon.
So how can the milk vat work for others?
Damien and Kate’s vision is to assist other cafes, with smaller milk needs than their own, to start using milk vats too. As a registered milk producer they’re now able to sell milk to others, paving the way for milk vats to be installed across the city.
Their drive to challenge the status quo of how milk is used and consumed in the hospitality sector grew as their knowledge of the dairy industry grew. They wanted to be a part of finding a solution not only to the plastics crisis but also to assist local dairy farmers, many of which are continuing to struggle despite our unceasing demand, while also offering their customers the very best product.
There are so many upsides to this project; less plastic, farmers are paid properly and customers get better products, and all for just 10 cents extra per coffee.
This is certainly an idea worth getting behind and spreading.
No single-use cups
Have you thought about ditching single-use coffee cups altogether? Brother Bear, a cafe in the Adelaide Hills did just that and haven’t looked back.
Jess Coull, owner of Brother Bear Cafe in Mt Barker, found herself frustrated with the lack of behaviour change when SA introduced a ban on lightweight plastic bags in 2009. Instead, people just bought thicker plastic bags. If supermarkets didn’t offer this option, then customers would be forced to change their behaviour, not just replace plastic with plastic!
The same principle applies to coffee cups - if they are there, people use them. Jess said, “I believe it is our responsibility as business owners to lead the way and only offer sustainable options”. So, Jess began putting into action the end of disposable coffee cups at Brother Bear.
They kicked off the BYO movement with the campaign. If customers brought their own cup it could be filled for $2. There was plenty of explanation and education that Brother Bear would no longer be offering disposable, single-use cups.
In addition to a “mug library” they have implemented a ‘swap and go’ system called Green Caffeen, which is a free reusable cafe cup system. The customer can scan, swap, drink and return the cup.
We asked Jess if she would encourage cafes to do the same and she enthusiastically replied “YES! Start slowly. Test the waters with a discount day - promote swap schemes during the lead up - give plenty of warning - then go for it!!!”
Cafes have long been incentivising the use of BYO practices by offering discounts when customers opt to bring their own cups and containers. These simple discounts, usually no more than 50 cents, have become fairly common and saw a rapid growth in conscientious customers ditching single-use.
But what about the repeat customers or tourists who are a little slow on the BYO uptake? And should a cafe really absorb the costs of what we should all be doing anyway?
That’s where Cups for Change came in. In January 2020, Byron based cafe hotspot, Bayleaf decided it was time to start adding a surcharge for single-use coffee cups (the BYO discount still remained in place).
That’s right, if you decided you didn’t want to dine in, participate in their reusable network Huskee Swap or BYO cup, then Bayleaf, along with a number of other local cafes who jumped on board, would add a 30 cent fee on top of your coffee.
What Cups for Change aimed to do was encourage reuse behaviour over single-use in customers who may had never given it any serious thought. They hoped to change behaviour surrounding the daily cup of coffee, believing that if people are called out on something or become financially disadvantaged from their daily practices, they may then enact change within themselves.
Overall, the scheme was a huge success, with Bayleaf reporting there to be a lot of positive feedback amongst their large portion of tourist patrons, with an increase in keep cup sales, as well as applause from locals who needed that extra ‘push’ to engage in reuse practices.
Coffee vans in their very nature are takeaway, which means even if they want to ditch single-use, it's going to be fundamentally more challenging. But just because it’s difficult it doesn’t mean that innovation and questioning the status-quo isn’t happening.
We’d like to introduce you to The Hopiti Cafe Coffee Van, based in Townsville. Being close to the beach they wanted to steer their customers away from single-use cups. The prospect of seeing customers even accidentally littering a cup is enough to make any business owner’s stomach sink!
A mug library is an initiative that keeps disposable cups out of the waste stream. A business builds their collection through donations of excess mugs that we all have in our cupboards. They clean them and display them in various ways - some in a basket, others on a shelf or a wall with hooks. Often there are a few cups with lids, which helps people who will be driving or walking along the beach.
What they all have in common is that customers are welcome to choose a cup to borrow, they take it to the counter and leave with their drink in the chosen mug. Next time they visit, they return their rinsed mug to a ‘dirty cups’ basket and pick a fresh cup for their next drink.
“It’s not for everyone, but if it means another single-use cup is avoided, then it’s worth it. They are really popular in NZ so we just need to make it the normal thing to do here.” said Chris Hopper of Hopiti Cafe.
Mug libraries are a great place to start for food vendors looking to reduce their reliance on single-use packaging. They don’t require a big financial outlay to set-up and they can help build a dedicated community of loyal customers. What’s not to love?
We're always on the lookout for inspiring stories about cafes reducing single-use, if you have one please contact us.