Blue Bottle To Test Banning Single-Use Cups At Its Cafes

The coffee company will no longer provide disposable cups in some Bay Area locations in an effort to go zero waste by the end of 2020.

Blue Bottle coffee company is promising to go “zero waste” in its U.S. stores by the end of 2020 ― and as part of that goal, the company said Monday it will ban disposable, single-use cups in some of its San Francisco Bay Area stores.

In a letter on the company website, CEO Bryan Meehan said single-use packaging was “clearly damaging our planet” and detailed how the company will test eliminating disposable cups in two locations ― one in San Francisco and one in the East Bay ― in early 2020.

In the pilot stores, customers will no longer receive to-go coffee in paper cups, but will instead have to bring in their own mugs or pay a deposit ― likely between $3 and $5, per a company spokesperson ― to buy a reusable cup from the store, which they can later swap in at the cafe for a clean one. The company will also sell its whole-bean coffee in bulk, rather than in single-use bags, and any to-go items will come in reusable containers.

“We are proud to announce an experiment that may not work, that may cost us money, and that may make your life a little more complicated,” the CEO said in his letter, explaining that this was all part of a push to take action on climate change.

Meehan acknowledged that even though Blue Bottle uses 100% compostable disposable cups, many of them still end up in landfills. Trash that decomposes in landfills releases greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. That’s why the company is now testing eliminating single-use cups altogether.

If the pilot works, it will expand to some of the company’s 70 other stores nationwide. Blue Bottle said it goes through about 15,000 disposable cups per month in its U.S. cafes ― or over 12 million cups per year.

The company also committed to being zero waste across its U.S. stores by the end of next year (it also has a handful of stores in Japan and South Korea, which are not included in this goal so far). Blue Bottle is following the Zero Waste International Alliance’s definition of “zero waste” ― meaning that 90% or more of its waste would not be sent to landfills.

Sign for Blue Bottle Coffee on University Avenue in Palo Alto, California, on Nov. 14, 2017.
Sign for Blue Bottle Coffee on University Avenue in Palo Alto, California, on Nov. 14, 2017.
Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images

In a previous effort to be more environmentally friendly, Blue Bottle moved away from compostable plastic cups and straws in its stores and now uses compostable paper straws and paper-and-sugarcane cups.

Paper straws and sugarcane already meet the zero waste guidelines the company aims to follow, per a spokesperson. The company wouldn’t specify what other changes it needs to make to meet its zero waste goal by end of next year ― but noted that many of these would likely be behind the scenes and not noticeable to customers. The achievement would be certified by TRUE Zero Waste certification system, which will also give Blue Bottle guidance in meeting its goal.

The company expects to meet its goal regardless of whether it chooses to expand the pilots banning single-use cups.

Blue Bottle has been majority-owned by Nestlé since 2017. The major food company pledged to make all its packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025 ― though activists remain skeptical about corporate recycling goals since many recyclable products end up in landfills.

Other major companies have aimed to reduce single-use plastic in their stores in recent years ― this year, Starbucks pledged to eliminate plastic straws globally by 2020.

And in January, cafes and restaurants in Berkeley, which is in the Bay Area, will start charging a 25-cent fee for single-use to-go cups in accordance with a city ordinance to curb waste.

As bans on single-use straws and cups have become popular in recent years, people in the disability community have warned that it can be exclusionary and even harmful to some disabled people who may need straws to drink or can’t easily hold heavier non-paper or non-plastic cups.

A Blue Bottle spokesperson said the company aims to be “inclusive of all guests” and has made a “priority” to meet with people in the disability community to discuss an appropriate solution, but does not currently “have a concrete answer to share” on what this will look like at its stores.

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