Stainless steel cups are being loaned out by Berkeley coffee shops and can be returned to receptacles around the city.

By Jelisa Castrodale
September 20, 2019

Eleven coffee shops in Berkeley, California are doing their part to cut down on single-use coffee cups by giving their customers the option to temporarily borrow a stainless steel cup when they order their next caffe latte to go. The participating cafés have joined forces with Vessel, a Colorado company that says its goal is to "positively disrupt the disposables industry" by offering a first-of-its kind reusable cup service.

According to KPIX, this pilot program launched in the city on Wednesday, and is part of a city-mandated shift away from single-use and throwaway culture; by January 1, 2020, restaurants, cafés, and coffee shops in the city will be required to have certified compostable foodware on-offer, and using a disposable cup will add an extra 25 cents to the bill.

Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

It's easy to use the Vessel service: at shops like Caffe Strada, which is taking part in the program, stainless steel cups and their silicone lids are stacked on the counter and ready to grab. Customers will use their phone to scan a QR code on the bottom of the cup before the barista fills it with their drink of choice. After that, they'll have five days to return it to one of the Vessel kiosks scattered throughout the city. (If it's not returned, the customer will be docked the charge of the cup.)

A Vessel staffer—on a bike pedicab, obvs—then collects the used cups from the drop-off sites, washes and sanitizes them, and returns them to the cafés where they can be checked out again.

"If you go look at the trash cans on the street, the majority of what you’ll probably see are disposable cups,” Vessel founder Dagny Tucker told KPIX. "People can tangibly take part in this movement to create a better, more sustainable, more beautiful future."

The program was announced in July by The Ecology Center, a Berkeley-based nonprofit organization. The Ecology Center said that its goal was to eliminate the need for as 1.5 million disposable cups—and yes, that's the estimated number of cups that these businesses could go through for the duration of the pilot program, which is expected to run through Spring 2020.

In addition to Caffe Strada, the participating coffee shops include Babette Café - Oxford, Babette Café - UC, Brewed Awakening, Café Think, Café Zeb, Free Speech Movement Café, The Musical Offering Café, Northside Café, People's Café, and Press Café.

"Bringing back reusables is our ultimate goal,” Berkeley City Council member Sophie Hahn said when the program was announced in July. “They worked for millennia, and I am confident we can make them work again. This reuse pilot will allow us to explore new approaches to adapt reusables to current expectations for convenience, reduce waste and litter, and help our small businesses offer products that are attractive and convenient for customers.”

Just don't forget to return those cups.

Advertisement