Coffee Cups – can we restore faith in reusables?

Never before has ‘washing’ been so important. The threat of Covid-19 has drummed into us how essential it is to clean our hands as often as we can, wash our clothes after ever wear and ensure that every surface we touch is wiped down and disinfected with anti-bac spray on a regular basis. With this in mind, it is no wonder that the concept of ‘re-use’ has caused confusion.

Books in libraries and clothes returned to stores are just a couple of examples of items that must now be quarantined for up to 72 hours before they can be given the potential to be shifted into another person’s possession. This time ensures that any virus that might be living on the surface of the item no longer poses a threat.

But what about scenarios where this time-lag isn’t an option? Reusable coffee cups are one such item.

Over the last few years we’ve all done a brilliant job of promoting, accepting and adopting the concept that single-use cups are a definite ‘no no’ when it comes to helping the environment. More and more of us were taking our re-usable cups into our local coffee shop or café and enjoying the financial perks of being an environmentally conscious coffee drinker.

However, since the pandemic the idea of handing over a used cup (that has come into contact with our hands and mouth) to another person has been seen as a risk. Indeed, certain food and beverage outlets such as Pret and Starbucks stopped accepting reusable cups as a precautionary measure to protect their customers and employees. But are the environmental consequences of shifting back to single-use too high?

Environmentalists certainly thing so, as do many of the general public. So what really is the best course of action to encourage people to switch back to reusables in the future?

As we emerge from lockdown and the ‘R rate’ reduces, many argue that it is time to take a more pragmatic view. We know that reusables are a far better environmental choice that the single use alternative and we also know that when washed with hot soapy water, the potential for the virus to stay on the surface of the cup is almost negligible. With this information at hand and a common desire to avoid mistakes of the past, more and more of us want reusables to become socially acceptable once again.

Greenpeace are one such organisation that is keen to encourage the re-introduction of reusable cups and put the risks into perspective. Recently the organisation produced a statement stating that reusable packaging systems can be safely used during the Covid-19 pandemic so long as they are washed with hot soapy water. This statement was signed by 125 experts from 19 different countries. However, perhaps more powerful than this has been the move by Costa to add one line to its website stating that it is accepting reusable cups in stores and rewarding those customers with a 25 pence discount on its drinks.  This maybe just the first step in re-igniting the plight against avoidable single use packaging items but it is a very significant one. In relation to the safety of making such a move Costa made it clear in a statement to ‘Footprint’ that it has temporarily updated its instructions for team members around how to manage and handle reusable cups in light of Covid-19 with minimal contact and enhanced hygiene procedures. With such strong confidence from a highly significant beverage chain, we are sure it won’t be too long before others in the sector follow suit.

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