Over 500 billion take-out cups are used and thrown ‘away’ on our planet each and every year.

We need to shift from single-use food packaging and realise that when you throw something away, there is no actual "away".

Single-use plastic bags 2*, plastic drinks bottles 1*, plastic straws and disposable coffee cups are the 4 biggest contributors to the mountains of landfill, and floating islands of plastic that are clogging up our lands and oceans 3*. They are all avoidable. If we simply refuse single-use items manufacturers will stop making them. The market will drive the change. The consumer has the power. We can save ourselves money, and we can protect our planet, for ourselves and our future. The vital need to do this isn’t radical, Greenie Tree Hugger talk. This is a stark and frightening reality 4*.

Coffee loving Kiwis use around 295 million disposable coffee cups every year.

It’s a big number. It’s almost too big to imagine. We like this little analogy – Imagine that your next-door neighbour has 2 take out coffees a day, in disposable cups. They bring them home and chuck them over the fence into your garden. After one year, you’ll have 730 cups in your yard. And their partner and teenage daughter do the same. So that’s 2,190 cups. Then the neighbours form the other side start throwing their cups over the wall, and the folks who live over the back as well. That makes 6,570 cups a year.

It’s getting a little bit stinky now and it’s only been 1 year. The cups aren’t breaking down – they’re tough enough to withstand boiling water – rain doesn’t bother them none. And then the guys over the road, join in too, in fact the whole street is now chucking their cups into what was your gorgeous, precious, pristine, oh so loved back yard. You now have 470,850 take-out cups in your yard.

Friends and family decline your invitations for barbeques. Your kids don’t want to play out back. You’re thinking of moving, but where to go? What if the same thing happens at your new house? Hmmm.

Rewind and imagine you and your neighbours either have reusable cups, or get up a little earlier each day to they have time to stay in the café and drink their coffees. There are no dirty coffee cups in your yard. Not a single one.

New Zealand is your back yard. We all need to stop chucking shit into it.

Take out coffee cups are rarely recycled and only rarely composted. 

The vast majority of single-use cups end up in landfill, and this includes plant-based cups that are marketed as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’. The infrastructure to compost these products, (to treat them at high and steady temperatures for a prolonged period of time) is virtually non-existent, at present, in most areas of New Zealand. In the big cities, where commercial composting facilities do exist, lack of infrastructure to collect and transport the cups and lids to the commercial plants is yet another reason why disposable cups are just handfuls of landfill.

What can we do to be responsible coffee drinkers?

Don't take away. Drink at the cafe.

If your work place is close to your café, take a regular mug from home. There is no need to buy more things when we can make do with what we have. Measure its capacity. Do you have a 6, 8 or 12oz (170ml, 235ml or 350ml)mug? Tell your barista.

Choose to use a purpose-bought reusable ceramic, glass, BPA free recycled and recyclable plastic or stainless steel cup. We have to do this as a consistent habit for it to be effective. It has to be our routine. Buying a ‘keep cup’, using it for 12 weeks then leaving it in the back of the cupboard means we have not used it enough to make up for its production. 

Write to your local council and ask them what they are doing to collect and process ‘compostable’, ‘eco’ coffee cups. We need our local and national government to step up 5*. Encourage the manufacturers of compostable take out cups to publicise the fact they they are only commercially compostable – this will help customers and cafes to stop believing they have done enough by purchasing these products. The time for Green-wash is over.

What can Café owners do to reduce the problem of disposable coffee cups?

The number 1 thing a café, or juice bar, or eatery can do is make it known that they are committed to reducing single-use waste. Join uyoc! Put up a sign. Stock and sell reusable cups. Charge for take-out coffee cups used for drinking in house. Charge for double-cupping. Raise and address the issue.

Many cafes offer a discount to customers who bring their own. This is great for the customer, of course, but is is sustainable in the long term for cafes? We hope to see a massive shift in consumer responsibility, in which case, charging for a disposable may be the better deterrent and more realistic economic plan?

Carrot or stick? 6* A recent BBC report suggests that people are far more sensitive to losses than to gains when making decisions – so if a café really wants to change a customer’s behaviour then a charge on a disposable cup is more likely to be effective. Some cafes in New Zealand are adding a 50c surcharge when folks use a take out cup rather than a choosing some kind of reusable cup or drinking in-house. They report this to be an effective deterrent and that they are attracting customers who choose to make the time to stay and have their coffee – increasing a sense of community and engaging with each other before they start their working day.

The hospitality industry can use its representative associations to put pressure on local authorities and national government to work with the manufacturers of plant-based, commercially compostable hot and cold packaging, like 7* ecoware and 8* innocent to make these products a truly green alternative. Talk to local waste companies – find out who does what and make your customers aware that if they throw a ‘compostable’ cup in the bin at work or in the street, the chances are it will definitely end up as landfill. Be open. Engage the industry. Start dialogue with customers and each other.


Hyper Links

1 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/28/a-million-a-minute-worlds-plastic-bottle-binge-as-dangerous-as-climate-change

2 https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/95248678/the-long-lonely-life-of-a-plastic-bag-new-zealands-singleuse-bag-problem


3 http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/why-you-need-to-stop-using-plastic-now/news-story/456d1f433a7bbbadd05d56e676856eee


4 http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change-plastic-pollution-dumping-scientist-warning-a7849706.html


5 https://sustainable.org.nz/sustainable-business-news/waste-what-should-we-do-with-our-disposable-coffee-cups/


6 http://www.packaging-gateway.com/features/featurepointless-waste-the-problem-with-disposable-coffee-cups-5845883/


7 http://www.ecoware.co.nz


8 https://innocentpackaging.co.nz