How will cafes adapt to Australia’s ban on disposable coffee cups?

Holly Szakal
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April 4, 2024
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Australia has initiated a transformative and innovative journey towards implementing more modern environmental sustainability practices to protect its vast natural landscapes. With the country’s recent comprehensive plastics plan comes an official ban on disposable coffee cups and lids. As a result, hundreds of to-go cups are expected to be saved from landfills as the nation’s first ban on plastic-lined disposable coffee cups takes effect. 

Notably, the state of Western Australia has become the first to ban non-compostable coffee cups. Coffee businesses that fail to comply with the new regulations face heavy fines. The change is part of the state’s push to reduce single-use plastics in the economy, which have been shown to pollute marine life and destroy previous reefs. 

A recent study found that 92% of Australian reefs examined were suffocated with plastic. Given the findings of a study conducted by the Pew Environment Group and Nature Conservancy, it’s understandable that Australians feel a sense of protectiveness. The study reveals that over 40% of Australia remains untouched by human activity. 

As a country so profoundly connected to nature, the priority of protecting the environment is in its best interest. But how are cafes in Australia responding to the sudden change?

To learn more, I spoke to Cory Slater, Head Roaster at Inglewood Coffee Roasters, and Rafael Bravo, owner of CUMBÉ Coffee Roasters

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Australia’s ban on disposable coffee cups

The Australian government’s decision reflects the growing need to address the pervasiveness of plastic pollution. In a country with a thriving cafe culture, takeaway coffee is a beloved ritual for millions of Australians. Takeaway coffee has long been an integral part of Australia’s culture, offering convenience on the go for busy individuals. 

However, the widespread use of takeaway coffee cups has come at a considerable environmental cost. The majority end up in landfills or littering waterways. Often, the plastic lining renders them non-recyclable, which means disposable coffee cups have become emblematic of Australian throwaway culture, contributing significantly to the country’s plastic waste crisis.

Statistics show that the average Australian consumes almost 2 kilos of coffee each year. Therefore, embracing the significant shift towards sustainable practices will make a huge difference in the country’s single-use plastics problem. 

Despite efforts to promote recycling, the complexity of traditional disposable coffee cups has made them notoriously impossible to break down in a manageable time frame. This is because the majority of these cups are lined with a non-recyclable plastic interior. As a result, these cups take hundreds of years to decompose, and during this process, they release a plethora of harmful pollutants into the environment. 

By prohibiting traditional disposable coffee cups and embracing a country-wide adoption of sustainable takeaway alternatives, the government aims to minimise the cost the environment is paying for Australia’s beloved and widespread cafe culture while promoting a circular economy. However, this transition will require collaboration and innovation for those with coffee businesses. 

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How can cafes adapt to a ban on disposable coffee cups?

In response to the ban, cafes and coffee roasters countrywide are now scrambling for alternative solutions to meet customer demand, adhere to the ban, and minimise their environmental footprint. 

Coffee consumers will always demand single-use cups. But what other alternatives can cafes implement to help reduce their environmental footprint while adhering to regulations?  

Many coffee businesses are phasing out or limiting the demand for single-use plastics, opting for more sustainable alternatives such as reusable cup programmes. Cory, who is also the green coffee buyer for Inglewood Coffee Roaster, explains how these habits are forming in Australian consumers.

“A growing number of cafes are already using either compostable or biodegradable cups and selling reusable keep cups,” he says. “Although the upcoming ban is going to put an [official] end to single-use cups, Australians have already been transitioning away from this behaviour for a number of years.”

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Sustainable takeaway coffee cup alternatives

One of the most common approaches adopted by cafes globally is encouraging customers to bring their own cups or purchase reusable options in-store. To incentivise the use of reusable cups, some cafes offer discounts or loyalty rewards to customers who bring their own. This not only encourages sustainable behaviour but also fosters customer loyalty.

CUMBÉ Coffee Roasters is a Melbourne-style cafe in the heart of Mexico City. It offers locals the Australian coffee experience. Owner Rafael offers alternative solutions for providing takeaway coffee while reducing his environmental impact. 

“We have a Huskee Swap that is designed to allow the customer to bring their cup to the cafe, even if it is not clean, and in return, get a coffee and a clean cup at the same time. Keep Cup is also a very special brand that combines functional design with high-quality materials that are also recyclable. They are very committed to being a company that changes the culture of single-use cups.” 

In addition to promoting and rewarding the use of reusable cups, cafes are also exploring options to cater to the never-ending demand for single-use cups. Compostable coffee cups have become an affordable and environmentally friendly option. They are made from plant-based materials such as polylactic acid (PLA) or paper lined with bio-based materials, perfect for those unwilling to switch to reusable cups. 

Compostable cups are designed to break down into organic matter under the right conditions. This makes them one of the most environmentally friendly options compared to traditional plastic-lined cups. Beyond this, they fit well within the new regulations set by the Australian government.

Regardless of how environmentally conscious the Australian consumer or government has become, takeaway coffee cups have always been and will always be a necessity for cafe culture globally. 

At MTPak Coffee, we have the expertise to provide business owners and coffee roasters with disposable coffee cups made from high-quality materials that are kind to the environment. Our range of sustainable takeaway coffee cups is made from biodegradable or recyclable materials such as bamboo fibre, PET, or kraft paper with an environmentally friendly PLA or aqueous lining.

Our takeaway coffee cups are available in the following sizes: 4 oz, 8 oz, 16 oz, 12 oz, and 24 oz. Beyond this, our eco-friendly coffee cups are strong, waterproof, lightweight, and 100% compostable. Beyond this, they can be custom-designed using innovative digital printing technology to feature your brand logo, QR codes, or recycling instructions.

Our use of digital printing allows us to offer customers a quick turnaround and shipping time. This allows us to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material.

Images courtesy of Inglewood Coffee Roasters and CUMBÉ Coffee Roasters

For more information on sustainable disposable coffee cups, contact our team

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