A Northern Beaches café is trying to stop single-use plastic takeaway lids from entering the waste stream each year.

The Northern Beaches has a strong coffee culture, with healthy competition between cafés for the custom of coffee connoisseurs. Director of Three Beans Matthew Howe (image below) hopes an innovation they are trialling will quickly spread to other cafés.

Matthew Howe with plastic free foldable paper coffee cups

Mr Howe said Three Beans’ 22 cafés use 1.8m single-use plastic takeaway lids per year, and they had been struggling to find a way to solve that problem, until now.

“My brother [James] and I have always been concerned about sustainability within our whole business. With everything we do, we’ve looked at how we could reduce our carbon footprint, use recycling, recycled materials in the stores, all sorts of things.

“We went to a lot of recyclable materials a little while ago, but the biggest one has always been the coffee cup. It is the biggest piece of packaging. We’ve always known that it’s not the best product.

“There’s always been these supposedly recyclable cups, or compostable cups, that weren’t. They would on appearance break down in landfill, but they really didn’t.

“We talked with our packaging supplier, who we had been with for a long-time to see what they had. We went to the source in China and other markets to buy our own packaging. We followed these young guys out of the USA who were doing this thing called a Unocup, which was a truly foldable lid. We looked at them, but they never went into production.

“Then we found Roastar, who are the Australian and New Zealand agents of The Good Cup, and that’s how we dived onto it super early, being out into market early. We are very confident in it, and think it’s better than a plastic lid, quite frankly. Plastic lids continually have issues with leaking. These don’t leak,” said Mr Howe.

Matthew Howe with plastic free foldable paper coffee cups

The Northern Beaches Advocate tried the new foldable paper cup for the first time with Mr Howe and barista Sanjay (image above) at Three Beans’ Brookvale headquarters. It seems they have found the better mouse-trap, or in this case, coffee cup.

The cup is sturdy and the foldable lid design not only prevents the possibility of leaks inherent with plastic lids, but also better fits to the human mouth, and is a non-drip design. As a takeaway cup, it is undoubtedly a significant improvement for the customer over the traditional takeaway cup.

In the new cup, the coffee stays as hot for as long, and according to Mr Howe the ‘lid’ can be opened and closed again easily by the customer if they want to add additional sweeteners. The main issue to adoption he sees is the change to the typical production line in a busy café.

“Currently, most of our stores will write the order on the lid. They’ll put that on the coffee machines, and the baristas will work to that. So this is different, because they’ll have to write the coffee on the side of the cup, and that changes some flow. Folding it is more time consuming initially than putting a lid on. There could be a pinch point in folding them to get them to customers.

“From a customer perspective, they’re easy to open and close, if you wanted to put a sugar, equal, or something in. Normally, the barista will do that for you, so you don’t need to open them.

“Training our baristas is going to be a bit of a challenge because it’s a bit fiddly until you’re doing it in volume. But we are testing this in all 22 of our stores, and we bought 25,000 of each cup — small, medium and large (image below). The large can do a cold drink or a large coffee,” explained Mr Howe.

Plastic free foldable paper coffee cups

With only around two percent of Three Beans’ customers using keep cups or reusable coffee cups, Mr Howe said the problem of plastic coffee cup lids may finally have a solution, but he wants customer feedback.

“We are desperate to get feedback. We’ve got a QR code on the cup, and people can fill in a little five-question survey to let us know what they think. I want to replace everything with these, I really hope this can be the change.

“The proportion of reusable cups is absolutely tiny. The plastic lids are a huge issue, and they are all going into landfill. They are not being separated and recycled.

“If we get positive feedback, let’s say get a 90 percent acceptance rate, then we will go straight into these. We have the ability with our supplier to do some normal cups like we’re doing now. That’s a non-ideal solution, but it’s better than not doing this at all,” said Mr Howe.

Plastic free foldable paper coffee cups

Mr Howe said after searching for an alternative to single-use plastic lids for some time, and finding The Good Cup, he decided to place an order to trial the new cup in their stores.

“We saw this for the first time in September of this year, and we jumped on straightaway. The earliest we could get it in country was last week. It’s made in China, with an aqueous coating, which is the best of a bad lot in terms of a non-porous coating to ensure that it’s waterproof but will still break down in landfill.

“The guys bringing it into Australia are working on getting certification to make them recyclable through the paper stream. The big challenge with takeaway cups is they all look the same. If I showed you two different paper takeaway cups, I would have no idea what linings they have, and what plastics are used on them.

“There’s no way they could get a normal looking cup in paper recycling, because then every cup would go in the recycling, whereas these look different. They’re waiting to try and get that signed off, but they are biodegradable and fully compostable,” said Mr Howe.

Plastic free foldable paper coffee cups

While reducing carbon footprint and plastic waste is important for some café owners and customers, the critical issue for adoption is cost. Will it be more expensive?

“Definitely not. They are going to be about ten percent cheaper versus a cup and a lid. Air miles and land miles are reduced because you only bring in a cup, no lids.

“You’re cutting carbon emissions on transportation of cups as well, because you bring in one box, not two boxes, which cuts storage cost as well,” said Mr Howe.

Although a seemingly simple innovation, it is striking that a commercially viable option has not succeeded in the market until now. With recent NSW Government initiatives to ban disposable plastic items such as plastic straws however, it is an idea whose time may have come.

“There wasn’t a viable solution before this. There’s no reason the Government can’t start legislating to get rid of plastic lids based on this,” said Mr Howe.

In addition to their headquarters at Old Pittwater Road, Brookvale, Three Beans operates six cafés across the Northern Beaches, including Warriewood Square, Dee Why Lighthouse, Balgowlah, Glenrose Village Belrose, Warringah Mall Brookvale, and Manly. For full location details and opening hours, visit the Three Beans website.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate

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