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Case Study - Cafe ditches disposable coffee cups

Interview with Jess Coull, owner Brother Bear Cafe in Mt Barker (Adelaide Hills)

South Australia has always been ahead of the game when it comes to sustainability, leading the nation with the ban on lightweight, checkout-style plastic bags in 2009.

Head chef Georga with Green Caffeen cups and mug library

Jess Coull, owner of Brother Bear Cafe in Mt Barker, found herself frustrated with the fact that this ban didn’t cause behaviour change - instead people just bought thicker plastic bags (as they were supposedly reusable). If supermarkets didn’t offer this option, then customers would be forced to change their behaviour, not just replace plastic with plastic! 

The same principle applies to coffee cups - if they are there, people use them. Jess said, I believe it is our responsibility as business owners to lead the way and only offer sustainable options”. With her frustration channelled into creating positive behaviour change within her cafe and community, she began putting into action the end of disposable coffee cups at Brother Bear.

Brother Bear kicked off the BYO movement in their community with #WarOnWasteWednesday campaign. If customers brought their own cup it could be filled for $2. There was plenty of explanation and education that Brother Bear would no longer be offering disposal, single-use cups. The education continues today and has been crucial to community support.

Jess wanted to see that changing habits could be possible and starting slow was instrumental to this. The community has been very supportive and appreciative of the stance that Brother Bear has made to ditch disposal cups altogether. The council donated dozens of glass keep cups to stock the “mug library”, allowing customers to borrow a cup if they didn’t bring their own.

People drive from all over to support us and we hear stories all the time about the fact that now people are in the habit of bringing their own cup, they won’t get a coffee in single use even if they forget. Which is inspiring, changing habits is possible.” Jess explained. 

In addition to the “mug library” they have implemented a ‘swap and go’ system called Green Caffeen, which is a free reusable cafe cup system. The customer can scan, swap, drink and return the cup (read our blog to learn more about reusable systems).

Jess mentioned that people were “more reluctant with Green Caffeen, simply because there’s more of a process with downloading the app” and would generally opt to take a cup from the mug library or BYO. However, with 5% of people utilising Green Caffeen it is a great option, and will only grow with more cafes on board - this is just the start.

As with all food retailers in Australia, Brother Bear was forced into a takeaway model under Covid -19 restrictions, which by necessity has led to an increase in food packaging. Brother Bear continued to take responsibility for offering sustainable options, not buying into the myth that disposable is safer. Single-use disposable cups are a thing of the past at Brother Bear and a global pandemic has not and will not change that. They continued to encourage people to BYO containers for their takeaway food (with a 10% off incentive).

And where packaging must be used, they resort to using home compostable items (which can break down easily in a home compost environment) and commercial compostable items where they have to.

We asked Jess if she would encourage cafes to the same and she enthusiastically replied, YES! Start slowly. Test the waters with a discount day or something similar - promote swap schemes like green caffeen during the lead up - give plenty of warning - then go for it!!!

Jess welcomes The Single-use and Other Plastic Products (Waste Avoidance) Bill 2020 and urges people not to replace one single-use item with another. The future is in reusables and a circular economy. 

You can find Brother Bear in the Adelaide Hills, in the heart of Mt Barker.


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