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Go plastic free & save money! A guide for cafes

We spend a lot of time with businesses. One of the reasons they may not want to make the switch away from plastic is because they are worried it is going to be too expensive. This is a valid concern. Plastic is… well let’s face it, cheap, and alternative products tend to be more expensive.

But what if we told you it doesn’t have to affect your bottom line. In fact, that you could even save money? Well it’s true – and on top of that, it’s not hard to do!

So let’s talk about how to switch and save.


1. are you giving away too much?

Most businesses are giving out far more disposable items than they need to. Do you really need a straw (or two) in every drink? What if you asked customers if they needed one?

When you make better choices, you encourage your customers to make better choices also. So the simple act of asking questions can have a big impact on your bottom line. We’ve worked with businesses that have reduced straw use by a whopping 80% by doing this!

Some of the other items you can reduce this way are coffee cup lids, bags, cutlery, sauce sachets /containers, and lids for sauce, bowls, cups etc.

And if you feel that asking is cumbersome, you could simply stop offering certain items and have signage instead that prompts customers to ask for them if they need.

2. out of sight, out of mind

We tend to think we need more than we do. If you leave cutlery, straws, sachets of sugar and salt etc. in obvious sight, people will take them, often without thinking. Put these items out of sight and wait for people to ask for them. That requires them to make a conscious choice about what they actually need. If you’re not convinced, just try it for a week. Instant savings.

3. rethink your packaging

Take a look at what you’re using. Are you using a burger box, when a paper bag will do? Are you giving away whole cutlery sets when people only need a fork? These may be conscious business decisions, but they could also be practices that you’ve never thought about. It might be worth thinking about.

4. consider banning

We’re just throwing this out there but... some cafes have managed to ban disposable coffee cups altogether by only selling reusable cups and offering customers their first drink for free. Not convinced? Here is one that did it. Straws are another item that cafes have successfully banned (but we recommend keeping a stash of plastic straws for people with disabilities). If banning, ensure to communicate with your customers about why you're doing so.

5. share the love

Signage that informs your customers about your message and what they can do to help can be very effective. Some of the messages we like include:

  • Straws suck! Lips work just fine.

  • We’ve ditched plastic straws! Ask if you need a paper straw

  • Litter makes its way to the sea.. buy a reusable coffee cup and get your first coffee free

  • Only a couple of items? Use your arms instead of a bag!

  • You don’t really need a lid do you? Go lidless!

  • Be kind to the planet, enjoy your coffee topless


Let’s talk about using more reusables in your business, because not only is this better for the planet, it is where the biggest cost savings can come from. And if you’re not convinced this is right for you, read on!

1. swap & go

Have you heard of swap & go reusable cup and container networks? As a cafe, it's often free to participate, and you simply stock reusable items provided by the network and swap them as customers bring them in for a new item. Depending on the network, the you may pay a fee for the service, or you may charge a deposit and refund it when the item is returned. Customers will either return the item to you OR to any participating cafe. You will have your cups topped up regularly.

The increasing popularity of these systems show that customers like the convenience. For cafes, every time you use one of the items, that's one less disposable item you'll use. This means savings for you for often no outlay. You’ll be featured on the network so people can find you, and given marketing material to boot. Win-win!

Learn more about reusable networks and which ones are available locally HERE.

2. switch to reusables

The more you reuse, the more you will save. Many cafes are already using reusable plates, cutlery etc, but it's also worth considering reusable straws (stainless steel or glass). These are becoming more popular with cafes and, while initially expensive, can save you money in the long run. They can be sourced in bulk, are easy to clean, look classy and are generally popular with customers.

Some other ideas include setting up a condiment station using refillable bottles instead of sugar and sauce sachets, and reusing the cardboard boxes your goods come in to offer to customers instead of bags.

3. start a mug library

If you have a few old mugs, give this idea a try. Set up a place to store your mugs, like a basket, or hanging up on a wall, and if a customer forgets their cup, they can borrow one and bring it back. You can ask customers to donate mugs so you’re not out of pocket. Think this won't make a difference? We have worked with cafes who are saving $100 a month doing this. And it isn’t limited to cups, you can try this with bowls, cutlery etc.

4. no takeaway for dine-in

Are your customers requesting takeaway cups and then dining in? Some people just like a lid to keep their drink hot. There is an easy solution, stock a few reusable keep cups for those occasions. Your initial investment will save you money in the long run.


We all need a little push now and then! Help customers make great decisions which save the environment and money for your business.

Sell branded cups and offer customers their first drink free. Or reward customers who BYO (bring-your-own) reusable cups or containers. Rewards don't have to be discounts, it could be a loyalty card that gets them their 10th coffee free. Be creative and think about what your customers might value. Join Responsible Cafes or Trashless Takeaway, these are café networks who encourage BYO and offer resources to help you. Promote your BYO policy on social media and in-store, and let your customers know for next time.

Consider instead (or as well as) charging for single-use items. This is gaining popularity as a new study has shown that people are more likely to use reusable cups if cafés charge for disposable ones. The study showed that cafés which replaced discounts for reusable cups with clear, equivalent charges for disposable cups significantly increased the proportion of customers switching to reusables. If doing this, ensure to make the cost of using the disposable option obvious rather than hiding it in the cost of the drink.

You can also encourage your customers to slow down and stay for their meal and coffee, avoiding takeaway. Offer them great reasons to stay, such as free wifi, newspapers or magazines, comfortable seating, dine-in rewards etc.


Once you’ve started to implement these measures, you’ll need to train your staff, as they’re the ones who’ll be using them. Habits take a bit of time and effort to break, so don’t expect to shift the culture of your workplace overnight. See our blog on staff training how-to for plastic free cafes.

And if you’re not there yet and still looking for how you can transition to plastic free and what products to choose, see our blog Six problem plastics cafes can get rid of NOW (and how to do it).

With a bit of creativity and commitment, saving the earth doesn't need to cost you the earth. Remember, there really are some great reasons to switch - not only will you attract new customers who want to support businesses making a difference, you will also be reducing your carbon footprint and contribution to landfill and pollution.


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