While the so-called “latte levy”, taxing non-compostable disposable coffee cups, is up for debate there are some social innovators and coffee houses already making their mark in this regard.
In the five years since they opened, Firehouse Bakery in Delgany has only used compostable cups. According to owner Patrick Ryan: "From day one we've always used Down2Earth for all of our packaging, be it our cups or boxes for our cakes and pastries."
Alongside the eco-friendly cups supplied, the cafe offers 20 cent discount if the customer brings their own cup.
Down2Earth Materials are a Co Cork company that have been supplying compostable catering disposables for the past nine years. "We specialise in certified compostable food service packaging. Our certified compostable coffee cups are made here in Ireland and are lined with a corn starch plant-based lining. We use a plant-based lid called CPLA, it's from corn starch. The idea is that when you're finished with it you put it into your food waste bin," says John Lynch, senior sales executive.
Since the debate on coffee cups has gathered momentum, Lynch has noted an increase in the number of traditional packaging companies who have approached them.
Down2Earth also supplies coffee company Java Republic. According to managing director Grace O’Shaughnessy: “As a nation we are going to fall short of our commitment to reducing waste and carbon emissions, according to the EU protocols, by a long shot, and that’s not acceptable as we move forward.
“We launched a wholly compostable bio-degradable cup here just in November. We felt we had a solution that we could now offer to our entire client base, that we are actually helping them and helping us to help the environment too.
“Both of our stores only offer the biodegradable compostable cup, there is no choice.” While these cups are the only ones available in the Molesworth Street and Ballycoolin stores, O’Shaughnessy says the company advises its clients to also use environmentally friendly options when supplying their product.
“Yes, there’s a price increase but there’s a payback in terms of the environment by introducing the reusable or a compostable cup.”
Java Republic encourage their customers to return the cups to their stores once used so that they can go through their recycling process.
“We are doing what we feel is our part to shift that dial – we’ve to push that agenda with the policymakers but also with the waste management companies that they have to change.”
O’Shaughnessy says they offer their customers two reusable options in their stores, selling Keep Cup but also an American brand Stojo, a collapsible cup. She first heard of the brand when a group of students from CBS Charleville got in touch to sell her their concept.
"The main part of the project is the concept but we are selling the cups as an alternative to the disposable cup," says Paul Drinan from Ditch Your Carbon Cup Print (DYCCP).
Unique selling point
"We have a significant relationship with the CEO of Stojo, Jurrien [Swarts]. He liked the concept and the educational side of the initiative so that's our unique selling point really. He allowed us to bring the Stojo cup into Ireland and to sell it. We've been to a various number of multinational corporations such as Vodafone, Kerry group and Dell EMC. To date we've sold over 1,000 cups."
Drinan is one of the students who set up DYCCP in September 2016, which started as a transition-year project, with a view of creating a better environment for future generations. “Really what we are doing is trying to sell our concept – disposable cups as we know them aren’t actually recyclable so we’d kind of be contradicting ourselves if we didn’t offer an alternative which we do with Stojo.
Zeus Group have supplied packaging for the past 20 years and also supply an eco-friendly range with compostable and recyclable disposable cups as an option. The eco-friendly supplies take up 20 per cent of their traditional cup sales.
"We saw it happening about 18 months to two years ago, it started to get a bit of momentum around then with the fact it was highly publicised in the UK media at the time. We did start getting a lot of calls, a lot of interest and of course a lot of conversations with our customers since that," says Zeus sales director David Acton.
“Compostable is an answer to some customers but I don’t believe it’s an answer to every customer because compostable won’t work everywhere. Until there’s access to compostable bins on the high street, it doesn’t make it easy for people to compost products.”
How much of an effect will this have on the more traditional packaging companies like Zeus who are essentially supplying products that are not on the eco-friendly campaign agenda?
“This is obviously a starting point or pivotal point in where people are looking for solutions,” says Acton, “so I don’t believe it will have a long-term impact on our business. It’s like the bag levy tax, everyone thought that was going to close packaging businesses but it didn’t have that effect. It certainly cleaned up a lot of plastic out there but it didn’t have a negative effect on our business, so I’m working on the basis it won’t have the same impact as people might think.”
Students from Temple Carrig School, Greystones, have been creating a stir, while on work experience with Greystones Tidy Towns, by visiting local businesses and asking them to sign a pledge that they’d only use reusable or compostable cups. They also had a supply of Keep Cups on sale.
This is all part of the Conscious Cup Campaign, set up by a group of people keen to spread the concept of reusable cups. The campaign asks coffee shops and cafes to offer incentives to customers who supply their own cup.
“When they join up with us we send them a pack that contains a window transfer, a poster and an information letter and we also promote them across our social media, all of that’s free and all we ask is they provide an incentive or a discount to people who present any reusable cup,” says Sorcha Kavanagh co-ordinator of Conscious Cup Campaign.