Especially in England, there is a great debate over disposable coffee cups and the amount of waste they produce. Jennifer Ferreira, whom I’ve quoted before about all things coffee, has written extensively on the subject. This included commentary about a parliamentary committee in England formed an inquiry to “look at what actions are being undertaken by industry and Government to reduce waste generated by coffee cups and plastic bottles, and investigate possible solutions.”
I think it’s important to notice that the government expects industry action. Many times regulation comes at a bad time and in a costly way when an industry can least afford it or obey new mandates. If you, as a business owner, can look ahead an see what changes are looming on the horizon, you can begin to implement changes that may head off regulation or at least make compliance less painful. Partnership with government from the beginning on growing concerns can also do nothing but help businesses establish what reasonable guidelines are. This can help businesses articulate both business and consumer concern over looming regulation.
Consumer concern. If you read any of the articles I linked to, you’ll understand that coffee cups are paper and plastic recycling nightmares that are not convenient to turn into something else. Most consumers are not going to hold onto their cups until they can find a suitable (and rare) recycling station for them. Into the trash they go. Why do we use a coffee shop’s cups anyways? It’s because we didn’t bring our own. We want the convenience of just grabbing and going. And usually, we’re in a hurry as well. So if my barista takes the time to wash out the metal tumbler the gal in front of me just brought in, it takes more time. Yes, it’s silly, but it’s also reality. If my coffee shop demanded you bring in your own, I would lose business because the consumer, to varying degrees, wants speed and convenience.
Business concern. Business owners want to provide a great product with great service, including speed and convenience. If they could do it without the added expense of providing a coffee cup, they would do it. For soft drinks and drip brewed coffee, the cup is frequently the most expensive part of the transaction. It sure makes sense to offer a discount for consumers brining in their own cups. But it is a pain to make anything in it except for drip coffee. What size is your tumbler? How does that affect my mocha recipe? It’s uncomfortable to have to adjust on the fly and eyeball containers. It takes even longer to wash them and maybe even measure the liquid they can hold.
If business owners decide to sell reusable mugs, they have to buy them all first. For many small cafes, that’s a cost that just isn’t in the budget. Sure, they’d love to be able to offer custom KeepCups at some point in the future, but now is just not that time. It would be great if your reusable cups were an appropriate size to fit all the drinks you make in the cafe. But that would take quite a bit of pre-planning and forethought. Just like staying ahead of government interventions into the industry.