By Hannah Tattersall 25 January 2018

Reusable coffee cups may be a growth industry, but our wasteful society’s detritus is still piling up at an alarming rate. So, what can you do to help?

Ever since the KeepCup appeared in a recent episode of the ABC TV’s War on Waste, co-founder and CEO of the reusable coffee cup company Abigail Forsyth has been inundated with sales enquiries and seen a 690 per cent spike in sales. 

The striking episode highlighted how 1 billion of those latte-holding paper vessels are sent to landfill every year. The reason is that they’re not made just from paper, but usually lined with a membrane of polyethylene (plastic) to make them waterproof. That means they’re not recyclable – or biodegradable. Rather, they contribute to the 52 mega tonnes of waste produced in Australia each year, according to the program. 

The War on Waste has generated momentum for #reuserevolution, a movement for people interested in prioritising sustainability, whether it’s through changing their morning coffee habits, refusing plastic bags, or wasting less paper in the office.

Here are a few ways you can say ‘no’ to convenience culture and ‘yes’ to the #reuserevolution:

It takes about 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture 102 billion plastic bags.

Invest in a reusable coffee cup

The humble (yet harmful) coffee cup is a good place to start. Australians love their coffee but the trend towards convenience sees thousands of us walking into offices each day with disposable cups we discard after only a few minutes – and for some of us this is two or three times a day.

Aside from KeepCup, there are other reusable vessels to choose from, including those by Frank Green, JOCO and Cheeki, all of which come in countless designs and colours. As well as looking cool, the research on reusable cups simply can’t be ignored. There is enough plastic in 28 disposable cups to make one small KeepCup, says the company. And research by Canadian chemist, Dr Martin Hocking, found that a reusable cup only has to be used 15 times to equal the same energy required to manufacture one paper cup. With the number of coffees consumed daily by Aussies, most of us would break even in a week.

Companies are getting in on the act, too, by giving staff and clients branded reusable coffee cups to use when they pop out for a break – and promote the company while doing so. For property manager, Dexus, it’s also an opportunity to influence the customers who frequent the food courts at the base of their buildings.

Paul Wall, Dexus’s head of group sustainability and energy, explains the tie in to corporate objectives. “We wanted to reinforce with our workforce our company’s commitment to sustainability, so handed out keep cups as part of our annual Sustainability Week campaign.”

Check out KeepCup, Cubic Promote or Corporate Essentials for designs.

Reduce paper waste

Another way organisations can get involved in the revolution is by reducing paper waste. Although invented as a communication tool, paper is now mostly used in packaging, which makes up more than a third of our trash. Did you know that 10 litres of water is needed to make one piece of A4 paper? 

Recycling 1 tonne of paper saves around 682.5 gallons of oil, 26,500 litres of water and 17 trees. All paper waste at work should be placed in a recycle bin and, when buying new stock, be a conscious consumer and buy 100 per cent recycled paper and paper products that come from sustainably managed forests.

But as individuals we can also make improvements. Clean Up Australia offers these tips for reusing paper in the office:

  • If you’ve only used one side of an A4 sheet, instead of throwing it away, collect the sheets and bind them into a notebook. This small effort reduces paper waste by 50 per cent
  • Reduce the use of paper cups and disposable paper plates by keeping reusable items in the office pantry
  • Store your files and notes digitally, using tablets and smartphones

Stop buying plastic

Now onto the worst culprit: plastic. According to Australian Ethical it takes about 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture 102 billion plastic bags. In Australia alone, we use more than 4 billion single-use plastic bags every year and only 3 per cent of them are currently being recycled, the organisation says.

As well as avoiding one-use bags, you can cut down on plastic in the office by avoiding straws (and this includes at Friday night drinks). Instead of wrapping your lunch in cling wrap, invest in some airtight storage containers that are both microwave and freezer safe. If you want to totally avoid plastic, buy glass. Not only can these containers be reused, you’ll also avoid the phthalates present in plastic wrap, which can be detrimental to your health. 

In Australia, plastic bags are now banned in South Australia (since 2009), ACT (2011), Northern Territory (2011), Tasmania (2013), Victoria (2017) and Western Australia (from 2018) and we’ve recently seen the major supermarket chains in New South Wales announce plans to ditch plastic bags. But the rest of us have some catching up to do. Get your company to participate in some clean-up days and events run by environmental charities such as Clean Up, Take 3 and Keep Australia Beautiful and be part of the #reuserevolution.

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