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The best reusables - an expert calls it

13 April 2018

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KeepCups. As part of a special offer with Blunt umbrellas I received a mint green KeepCup. That made it my third reusable and it got me wondering: can a person have too many reusable coffee cups?

I spoke with Managing Director and KeepCup co-founder, Abigail Forsyth (above).

Abigail founded the company with her brother in 2008 off the back of the café they owned and ran together in Melbourne.

The duo, concerned about the volume of packaging waste consumed in relation to coffee, wanted to find another more permanent ‘vehicle’ for takeaway coffee. Options such as ceramic cups and thermoses had their limits – both usability and aesthetics got in the way of customer and barista uptake.

KeepCup, which was designed and is manufactured in Australia, uses polypropylene – a widely recycled plastic. The company also has a tempered glass range and, when we spoke, Abigail had just launched a clear plastic range in tritan, a material which, whilst BPA/BPS free, currently has no recycling stream.

According to data on KeepCup’s website: your average take-away disposable cup is lined with polyethylene and has a polystyrene lid, and there’s enough plastic in 28 disposable cups to make one small KeepCup. In 2009, Simon Lockrey from the Centre for Design at RMIT completed a Symapro Life Cycle Analysis which independently verified KeepCup’s sustainability claims. Research conducted by Canadian chemist, Dr Martin Hocking, found the break-even energy requirement to manufacture a reusable plastic cup versus a paper cup over a lifetime use was under 15 uses.

On the basis of these findings I have done a few of my own calculations.

I use my work KeepCup at least three times a day. In a week I’d reached break-even on the energy front and continue to save the environment a lot of plastic waste. My other two KeepCups, which are at home, I use less frequently, but they’ve also reached break even. I am saving kilos of plastic waste a year by not getting a one-use plastic coated cup every time I buy coffee.

For Abigail, the debate surrounding ‘buying your way to a sustainable lifestyle’ and consumption reduction is one of her growth pain-points.

In bed at night she wonders if people use the cups; if she’s part of the problem or part of the solution: “We’ve sold a lot of them [KeepCups] and I see them on the street being used but is it enough?”

Her conclusion: the best re-usables are the ones you use, and to help ensure effective and consistent use of re-usables, quality of the product and experience - whether you’re the barista or the consumer – are important factors. It’s why whilst recycling is a serious issue, the most important consideration is uptake – reduce and reuse.

Abigail now runs the KeepCup business on her own, her brother Jamie Forsyth is about to launch a reusable lunch container Beetbox.  One of Abigail’s ongoing business concerns is assessing investment for growth and aligning that with confidence in the future.  When the business launched they had an ambitious target of 30% reuse rates.  This has now been achieved in many businesses around the world, so the business is considering how to advocate a ban on disposables without alienating their café customers.  In terms of ongoing financial and staffing investment - not just in Australia but in the UK and Los Angeles where she also has market presence – she must make the final decision.

In that way, she says, business growth has been a personal confidence journey: “The big decisions come back to leadership and leadership requires you to make decisions. Having people who support you and back you but who have the confidence and the knowledge to express their views is really important.”

Support from family is equally important.

“Running a business takes up a lot of mental space. My children often say to me: ‘Come on. Come back, mum,’ because I’ve drifted off to think about work. When it comes to work and family – I reckon I’m always doing one badly. My husband’s strategy is to plan holidays where there’s no wi-fi,” says Abigail, who goes on to say that success is unachievable without help.

“All the women I know running businesses, their partners are their key support in either a formal or informal way. My husband works four days a week in order for me to do this [run the business].”

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