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Donated ‘mug libraries’ in Nelson cafes promote reusable cups over single-use

When Barbara Robson got to thinking about the millions of takeaway cups sent to landfill across the country, she started to think what she could do to help create change in Nelson.

A Nelson Environment Centre volunteer, Robson had been on a “waste minimisation quest” for some time. She’d heard that 300 million takeaway cups were sent to landfill in New Zealand each year and had seen just how many were thrown out in Nelson cafes. 

She said Plastic Free July seemed like a good time to have those conversations more broadly and along with a group of other Nelson Environment Centre volunteers, Robson had asked about 20 cafe owners what they could do to help.

“We thought one way we could help was to get the MenzShed alongside to help with building some mug trees that could be visible in cafes so customers could see that as an option.”

Using mugs from the Recycling Centre, Robson said they had put together 10 “mug libraries” which they were distributing to cafes.

People were able to use a mug when they purchased a takeaway coffee and were asked to return it to any participating cafe. Robson said she hoped that each mug library would gain enough momentum to sustain itself. 

Robson said it had been a “happy discovery” that there were a number of cafes that already had their own mug libraries. 

“We’ve heard cafes say customers like this idea, they get attached to certain mugs and then they start bringing in donations. Worst possible scenario is someone takes one away and doesn’t bring it back but they are 50 cents at op shops.”

She said they were asking cafe staff to keep a record of how many mugs were used each day for the first month, so they could measure how the programme was working. 

Arobake in Wellington no longer carries any single-use coffee cups.

The initiative was designed to run along other reusable cup lending and circulation systems like CupCycling and Again Again.

“We want to make it easy for people in their busy lives to look at alternatives.”

Robson delivered the first mug library to Flock Board Game Cafe on Friday. 

Owner Phil Wood said he was sick of seeing the number of cups that went into landfill.

“It is completely unnecessary today as there are plenty of other options.”

Next month the cafe planned to introduce the CupCycling initiative and Wood said they would no longer be using single-use coffee cups. 

Robson said most cafe owners were very active in taking steps to reduce single-use coffee cups.

“Some people still think recycling is fine, but as we know, even compostable cups are not compostable unless they are in exactly the right composting environment.

“When they end up in a plastic bag with a whole lot of other stuff in the landfill they are producing methane.”

The Packaging Forum estimates that in New Zealand 295 million hot and cold cups (including coffee cups) are used every year.

by Samantha Gee / Stuff

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