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Ona Coffee starts a movement

Ona Coffee has launched the #giveupthecup campaign with a plan to cease its use and distribution of single-use cups. The roaster encourages other coffee businesses to do the same.

The takeaway cup has long been used as a symbol in the coffee industry, representing the last link in the supply chain as crop reaches cup. But its environmental impact is becoming impossible to ignore.

Once the coronavirus pandemic ends, Ona Coffee Founder Sasa Sestic wonders why single-use cups will be needed at all.

“For many of us, when we go to our local café, we order a takeaway cup and move on with our busy lives, [but] the [environmental consequences] of single-use products has been a contentious subject in both public and industry sectors for several years,” Sasa says.

“The effects of climate change are real. With the bushfires and other environmental disasters across Australia, we feel that now is the time to act.”

Ona Coffee launched the #giveupthecup campaign in February, revealing its plans to stop using single-use takeaway cups in its venues and wholesale distribution.

In 2019, Ona Coffee supplied more than 2.7 million takeaway cups to its customers across Australia. While this is just a fraction of the more than one billion disposable cups thrown away every year in the country, Sasa hopes other businesses will join Ona in giving up the cup.

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Reusable cups and swap programs have increased in popularity in the last few years.

“Although Ona Coffee is only supplying a small proportion of the takeaway cups used in Australia, our goal is that, by acting together and having everyone in our industry supporting this initiative, and also individuals, we can make a change,” Sasa says.

“We want to set an example and show that reusable cups can and should be the standard in Australia. It’s time to #giveupthecup.”

Ona Coffee will open its first flagship café in Melbourne in 2020, planning to operate without single-use cups. Ona Coffee General Manager Tom Beaumont says the café launch serves as a perfect starting point.

“We don’t want to create a problem and then unwind it. We’re in a great area in Brunswick where environmental awareness is high and the reusable market is already strong,” Tom says.

“We don’t feel there’s business to lose, and this is also a coffee experience destination. We’re encouraging people to drink from reusables and we’re also encouraging people to take some time out and experience amazing coffee inside the venue.”

Ona Coffee Sydney and the roaster’s Canberra cafés will follow suit.

“We see COVID-19 as a set back, but it won’t stop us from trying to remove single-use cups from our business. We hope the campaign inspires people and will use our own venues as role models to show that a café can still be successful without single-use cups,” Tom says.

“The next phase is to stop distributing single-use cups and provide reusable options for our wholesale customers. Cafés have the opportunity to respond to community concerns and create sustainable practices together.”

Reusable revolution
A number of reusable alternatives have popped up in recent years to encourage a shift away from disposable cups. Ona Coffee intends to work collaboratively with these companies to ensure its wholesale customers can access a variety of options.

“KeepCup was an innovator in this space early on and there are plenty of other businesses and cafés that are acting sustainably,” Tom says.

“They’re all partners in this process and we share the same philosophy.”

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Ona Coffee is working with a number of alternatives in the move from single use.

Cup borrowing systems have been implemented across Australia, where customers can purchase cups or put down a deposit, then bring back cups to be swapped for fresh ones.

Popular reusable cups include KeepCup, Sttoke, and Frank Green.

The HuskeeSwap program allows consumers to buy HuskeeCups outright then exchange them for fresh cups when returning for coffee. This mitigates workflow disruption for the café, which can serve sit-down orders in HuskeeCups as well.

With GreenCaffeen, coffee drinkers download an app, sign up, then pick up a reusable cup from a participating café. They can then take the cup to any participating café, and if it’s within 30 days, it’s free to use.

For a small subscription fee per month, customers can sign up to The Cup eXchange cup borrowing system, which uses QR codes to track its reusable cups.

ReturnR lets customers put down a refundable $6 deposit at a café to purchase their coffee in a stainless-steel cup. This can later be returned for the deposit, swapped for a new cup, or even exchanged for a different container.

“You can take a cup back and replace it with a stainless-steel bowl for a takeaway lunch meal. It’s a currency. It’s not only the takeaway cup industry that’s changing, it’s takeaway packaging as a whole,” Tom says.

“This more diverse reusable market is great for the customer. They might buy a resusable cup – but if they leave it at home, they can use a returnable cup instead. There are plenty of options and they complement each other.”

Before phasing out disposable cups completely from its distribution, the roaster will distribute single-use cups bearing the #giveupthecup hashtag and carrying the message “no more single use cups”.

“A lot of people don’t know that coffee companies make money off takeaway cups. This is a decision to act sustainably at root level, even though it will affect our bottom line,” Tom says.

“But if you’re a roaster forecasting profits from takeaway cups for years to come, you’d be foolish. There are more and more success stories coming from cafés who are not supplying single-use cups. When we have enough of these, the landscape will change even more quickly.”

ona coffeeOna at a time
French Basket in New South Wales is an early converter to the single-use-free movement. Owners Jacobe Marsh and Lucille Varnier made the decision while planning their second café in Dee Why, which opened in February.

“I’m from Byron Bay and living sustainably has been instilled in me since I was a kid,” Jacobe says.

“When the opportunity came to start a second café, we had to make up our minds on how to do it. It’s a beachfront position, rent is high, and we weren’t sure if it’s a good idea, but we stuck to our guns. People shared our efforts through Instagram and social media, and we’ve had people saying they’ll support us because we’re takeaway-free.”

At the first French Basket in Mona Vale, Jacobe and Lucille chose to slowly phase out single use cups instead of wasting those already in stock.

“We have a lot of tradespeople come through that want to be in and out quickly. It gave us time to heavily promote the switch and give our customers plenty of notice,” Jacobe says.

Both venues stock HuskeeCups and encourage people to take part in the HuskeeSwap system. Since opening a year and a half ago, Jacobe estimates the Mona Vale store has sold upwards of 700 HuskeeCups. Dee Why also offers “ugly” mugs in the hopes that people will return them.

“Quite often along the coast you see bins overflowing on the beaches and rubbish blowing down the street. If there’s less single-use cups being used, it’s going to make it a lot cleaner,” Jacobe says.

He hopes that #giveupthecup will encourage more cafés, even those not affiliated with Ona, to make a permanent change.

“Ona is a leader in the coffee industry. Other cafés respect Ona, and them launching this will cement it for others to come onboard. The more people that go reusable-only, the easier it becomes for everyone,” Jacobe says.

“We’re seeing crazy fires changing peoples’ lives and erratic storms washing up plastic on beaches. 2020 will be a big year for pushing environmentally friendly and sustainably operating businesses.”

Sustainable mission
#giveupthecup is one part of Ona Coffee’s wider mission to improve its sustainability, with plans to address every by-product of the business.

“Ahead, packaging is on our agenda with new and creative ways to solve this issue,” Tom says.

“Our belief is that prevention is better than diversion. We’d rather remove the problem altogether than put a Band-Aid on it.”

In the meantime, Sasa encourages other coffee businesses to act progressively and #giveupthecup.

“I understand that it is not an easy process, and that we can’t just stop serving single-use cups overnight. A movement like this will require support from industry, café owners, and, most importantly, the individuals that are ordering and drinking coffee,” Sasa says.

“How incredible would it be if instead of leaving this problem for future generations to deal with, we took ownership and made a difference now?”

This article appears in the April 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

For more information, visit www.onacoffee.com.au/sustainability or follow #giveupthecup on social media.