Machiko Niimi and Tim Lynch investigated the introduction of sustainable coffee cup options at Eden Café. 

In New Zealand, in 2011, 180 million coffee cups were distributed by Huhtamaki Group, a major manufacturer and distributor of disposable cups in New Zealand. Most end up in landfills. There are also significant emissions associated with the production and distribution of disposable cups. Biodegradeable cups are commercially available but may not be separated from general waste for recycling. The disposable cup has influenced social practice by contributing new meanings and competence around ‘on the go’ coffee consumption.

As a basis to develop a new strategy for Eden Café at the Otago Polytechnic, a working group used open-ended conversations with customers; noted consumption patterns of the customers; assessed financial data; and explored national and international precedents in sustainable café operation. They discovered for example that most of the disposable cups  were disposed of on-site at the café, so were not being used for 'on the go' consumption. Observations also confirmed that expecting customers to be responsible was not effective enough to achieve change. 

This scoping stage led to a decision to completely eliminate the use of disposable cups from the beginning of 2016.  In the first year of this initiative Eden Café estimates to have eliminated 38,000 cups from landfill. The café started selling reusable cups, but also offered a variety of ceramic cups - purchased new, purchased second-hand, or hand-made by ceramics students. Customers who did not bring a reusable cup could still get a takeaway coffee in a second-hand cup.

While other cafes may be able to introduce similar initiatives to those adopted at Eden Café, eliminating the disposal of cups to landfill from hole-in-the wall or caravan coffee outlets will be more challenging. Offering reusable coffee cups for sale as a sole sustainability initiative is likely to have small effect to shifting customers’ behaviour. The various alternative offerings are a key to this initiative’s success for Eden Café, enabling customers to still take away their coffee.

November 2017