The Great Coffee Cup Debate

The Great Coffee Cup Debate

The war on waste has recently highlighted the issues of the disposable coffee cup and the great coffee cup debate is something we should all participate in.


As a human occupant of this amazing planet as well as a mother, business person, environment and animal lover the topic of waste, recycling and sustainability is a keen interest and concern of mine.

A responsible attitude toward waste is essential and in this ever increasing “throw away” society – finding solutions are difficult.

The “Great Coffee Cup” debate may seem a simple one on the surface but there are many issues to consider.

It may seem easy to simply say – “don’t use disposable take away cups” or “reward reusable coffee cup owners with a discount”.  Both of these ideas have merit but let me throw up some things to consider.

A coffee shop relies on its reputation of good coffee.

·      The coffee grind and machine are set up to push the correct volume of water through the coffee biscuit at the correct pressure to produce the perfect amount of espresso for the cup volume used at the particular coffee shop.

·      The proportion of coffee yield to milk/water is a vital part of the success of a cup of coffee.

·      The space under the portafiller of coffee machine is fixed so only certain height cups can fit under to receive the coffee shot.

Use of a in-house reusable porcelain cup requires staff to deliver the coffee to the customer, staff to collect and return to the kitchen, staff to wash and return the cup to the barista, energy to heat the water to wash the cup and run the sanitising dishwasher, detergent to ensure a clean and healthy cup, energy to heat the cup and run the coffee machine. On top of these costs are the added overheads of insurance, wages, Workcover and general cafe running costs.

You would think a takeaway cup, whether disposable or reusable should negate many of these processes and costs.

A disposable cup and lid costs approximately 25c extra to an in-house cup just as packaging. It does not however require further input after the coffee is made.

Disposable packaging does have a waste problem though. Many cups do not break down and cause large volumes of land fill. There is energy required to produce the paper cup, trees are impacted in the need to produce the paper for the cup and the plastic lid and lining of the cup uses fossil fuels in its production. The sheer number of disposable cups used every day make this a significant issue.

Reusable Take away cups

·      are often made from plastic or have plastic lids or heat bands. Fossil fuels are used in their production.

·      vary considerably in volume and are most likely not the same volume as your local coffee shop is set up for thereby affecting the taste of the end product

·      variance in the end coffee quality not only affects the customer experience but also can affect the coffee shop reputation as a perceived poorer product is produced

·      vary considerably in physical height and may not fit under the portafiller of the machine

·      are often handed over to the barista dirty and then require staff time and effort to clean

·      cups are cold which in turn affects the temperature and quality of the end product.

As a business owner some things to consider are:

·      Do we increase the price of a take away coffee so that we can then discount an “own cup” coffee?

·      Will in house customers demand a discount off a standard price if they provide their own cup?

·      How do you manage hygiene of customer owned cups and possible liability?

·      Where lies the fine line between profitability, environmental consciousness, customer demands, quality assurance and good service?

·      Profit margins in the hospitality industry are pretty slim. Offering discounts for ‘own cup” use may wipe out any profit on that particular cup of coffee.

It is a complex dilemma for which I am not able to offer a solution, just some points for all to consider.

For the moment, here at the Riverdeck, we use disposable take away cups from an environmental responsible company ( whose cups are carbon neutral, produced from plantation timbers, are biodegradable and commercially compostable.biopak-art-series-double-wall-cups

We don’t have a surcharge for take away cups or offer a discount for “own cups”.

We are looking into the provision of discounted refills on our own reusable cups, which could be purchased by customers, thereby maintaining quality of our coffee end product. This requires a significant capital investment with no guarantee enough customers will take up the offer for us to recoup our costs.

The Biopack Difference

Benefits of Biocups

Whatever decisions we make as businesses or individuals please just consider the many different aspects of the issue and respect each other’s right to make those decisions.

Enjoy your coffee and espresso yourself!