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Single-use coffee cups are a huge contributor to paper and plastic waste. The polyethylene plastic lining in many coffee cups means they are not accepted for recycling in most municipalities – and end up in our landfills.

According to Canadian Geographic, it is estimated that Canadians use between 1.6 and 2 billion disposable coffee cups a year.

This coffee conundrum has turned many people towards reusable mugs. But what happens when we forget them at home? That’s where CUPPY comes in.

CUPPY offers a cup share program where you can take a mug home and return it next time you head to your neighbourhood café, helping you minimize waste and caffeinate sustainably. Since September 2019, CUPPY has saved over 1046 cups from the landfill.

The Product Care Recycling team had a conversation with Abner Tsai, founder of CUPPY, to learn more about the company and its cup share vision.

CUPPY cup sharing program vancouver

1.What problems were you trying to solve when you started CUPPY?

Our goal with CUPPY is to help solve the problem of single-use waste starting with… coffee cups!

Generating waste has become ingrained in our daily routines. It can be easy to forget about our impact. We’re also in the era of convenience, so it’s easy for us to consume single-use items everyday.  It’s become a normal practice to use a disposable coffee cup in the morning, a take-out box and utensils at lunch, and a pizza box for dinner.

We’ve been conditioned to think that all of these items disappear when we put them in that magical garbage can. But now we know the truth. With the sense of urgency brought on by climate crises, we know that our actions have consequences. That’s why we’re trying to offer an alternative to single-use products, while also trying to minimize disruptions to our day-to-day lives.

2. Why did you feel inspired to start this company? 

I felt that our way of living needed to fundamentally change or we, and the generations after us, will suffer the consequences of our inaction. The basic necessities of life are no longer guaranteed

Access to clean air, water, and  food may become a luxury that not everyone will be able to afford or have access to in the near future.

Our current society incentivizes people to buy and consume as much as possible without thinking about the impact of these choices. This is what inspired me to motivate people to rethink current consumption behaviours and reduce our dependence on single-use items. If we’re able to reuse the resources we have, and incentivize “better behaviour,” I believe this could lead to a shift away from our current mindset around consumption.

3. How many coffee shop locations do you currently partner with? 

We’re currently working with 5 cafes to pilot the program:

  • Green Coast Coffee
  • Kranky Cafe
  • Grounds for Coffee (on Commercial and Alma)
  • Caffe Citadella
  • The Garden Strathcona

4. Do you hope to grow outside of Vancouver and/or BC? 

Definitely! It’s our goal to expand CUPPY beyond Vancouver so we can engage more people looking to reduce their single-use coffee consumption. We’ve already had inquiries from other places in Canada including Lethbridge and Toronto, but our current focus is to prove our concept in Vancouver before expanding.

5. What feedback have you received so far from coffee shops / coffee shop customers?

While we’re still in the early stage of our pilot, people are liking the idea but sometimes hesitant to try it out.

Our program requires customers to sign up as members which can be a bit of a barrier. We hope to eventually incorporate incentives for people who use the program while also showcasing local businesses committed to helping shift the mindset around  single-use products.

We’re constantly working with participating coffee shops to improve their overall experience and minimize any disruptions to their daily operations. We have updated our app to speed up the cup checkout and return process. So far, the feedback has been very positive.

6. How do you see programs like this growing and evolving over the next few years? What would your ideal future for the sharing economy look like?

We expect to see an increase in awareness on the topic of waste reduction over the next few years. It’s very encouraging to see the implementing bylaw changes that will really affect the marketplace and require people to look for alternatives. The $0.25 mandatory cup charge that starts in 2021 will  help people understand that single-use items like cups and lids have more than a financial cost.

I think programs like CUPPY will flourish because there’s a real need for them. We’re seeing cup share programs pop up all around the world and we know that cups are just the beginning. Container sharing will soon follow. I believe that gamifying the experience and rewarding sharing will help us transition to a sharing economy.

7. What general recommendations do you have for people who are looking to cut down on their waste?

Be mindful of how you consume and try to find easy ways to change your habits. There are many ways to reduce your waste. Refusing just one straw or plastic bag is a start. And don’t beat yourself up if you end up with some single-use waste, we’re all learning as we go.

Moving towards a sustainable future is about shifting our habits by doing things that may feel inconvenient at first, but will make a big difference in the long run.

To learn more about CUPPY and their mission to help people caffienate sustainably, visit their website: https://www.cuppy.ca/