Australians throw away 2.7 million disposable coffee cups every single day
KeepCup customers prevent an estimated 8 billion disposable cups from ending up in landfill every year
Created in Melbourne, Australia, KeepCup is now sold in over 75 countries across the globe
After 8 uses, KeepCup Thermal has a lower carbon impact than disposable paper cups (based on product design lifespan of one coffee per weekday for 8 years)
The lid of a KeepCup is designed to fit all models and all components are replaceable
KeepCup has become the category name for reusable cups. For some years now, the brand, an embodiment of reuse culture, has campaigned for industry and government to set a sharp vision that supports a shift in how people live and consume. Their message is based on three principles: remove unnecessary single-use items; design quality products that are fit for purpose, enjoyment and long life; and make sure your organisation and supply chain support those values.
KeepCup was founded in Melbourne in 2007 by siblings Abigail and Jamie Forsyth. At the time they were running a café business and were horrified by the amount of single-use coffee cups going to landfill each year. Following the successful trial of a reusable soup mug and the unsuitability of existing thermoses and mugs for refill in a café environment, they decided to design and manufacture their own – a barista-standard reusable cup for people to enjoy coffee on-the-go.
Learning about their company’s trajectory provides us with a myriad of lessons, ranging from resilience and strategy to collaboration and design. In a recent chat, KeepCup’s Co-Founder and Managing Director, Abigail, generously shared stories and lessons learned with the ACE Hub.
When asked for her vision of the future of KeepCup, Abigail provides an unusually refreshing answer for a for-profit business owner. “I would like KeepCup to be a quaint antique, like a relic where people say, ‘What did you use this for again? Why were they even necessary?’… KeepCups are used occasionally for coffee on-the-go, but by and large, people will be enjoying their coffee in the café,” she says. KeepCup’s ultimate end-goal is actually a world without KeepCups where convenience no longer runs our society.
Our story and our research show that this is how people want to behave. It is now time for industry to step in and support [this] with process and systems, and government to set policies that support reuse of products.
As KeepCup pitched their initial idea to various stakeholder groups, they discovered it was not a solution for deeply environmentally aware customers because they already avoided single-use disposable cups. Their audience was made up of people who were mindful of the waste problem but would need to be engaged by other factors: acceptance, beautiful design and a great drinking experience.
There was a large section of the market who wanted to be part of a cultural change that would help reduce waste to landfill but felt they didn't have the credentials to act. “We tried to open up that space with the message that ‘here's a little thing you can do, it's easy, it's cool, it's fun, it's trendy’. Whatever floats your boat to get [people] into the conversation,” says Abigail looking back at that time. “KeepCup became a conversation starter about great coffee, local manufacture and why to choose re-use.”
According to Abigail, to get traction for an idea you must identify the people who give permission for the change you seek and engage them, like Campos Coffee founder Will Young, an early adopter of KeepCup. “This set a blueprint for market entry,” she says. “Find the influential independent cafés and roasters and grow the movement from there.’
KeepCup also identified that baristas were the stakeholder group who could ‘make or break’ the behaviour change that was needed for the uptake of their product. They were behind the machine every day making coffee in disposable cups, feeling the impact of our addiction to convenience. “You walk in with your KeepCup and if the barista says, ‘Oh, what's that? I don't know what that is or how to fill it’ versus, ‘Oh cool, you've got a KeepCup!’, this would make all the difference in the uptake of KeepCups,” Abigail explains. “Identify and work with the stakeholders who can create change: those who will ‘give permission’ for the change to happen.”
When asked what advice she has for other organisations, Abigail has this to say: “Get an LCA [Life Cycle Assessment] done, so you can understand where the hotspots [i.e. the main social and environmental impacts] in your supply chain are. It can be an expensive exercise, so as a business consider where along your journey this is required. There are so many wins to be had, and a reminder that some of the things you can do are just good business practice. Like having a local supply chain; thinking about things you can do to mitigate waste; improving the quality of your product, which in turn removes waste; make your product repairable; make them component-based, in our case so the lid fits every single cup we make. Those are impact decisions and circular decisions, but they are also sound economic decisions that evidence the long-term value of the product and the brand.”
Abigail explains, “You've got to think about each stage: the design, the use, the reuse and all of the parts of it. And most importantly, your vision of what a future using your product looks like.”
Figuring out what your values are and sticking by them is also crucial to success. “Be values-led and let those values guide your decisions,” Abigail urges.
Abigail offers an example of a time KeepCup chose to honour its values over profit. “We always thought that when we got to a certain volume, we would produce the plastic parts in the UK, and in 2015 we got to that volume. So, I went to four different factories, met with different suppliers and they all came back with their pricing. It turned out that it was cheaper to make the parts in Australia and ship them to the UK than it was to make them in the UK and ship them within the UK to our assembly. And I thought, 'Oh, we can't do it'. Lou Dyer, our Innovation Manager said, 'We've got to do it. That's what our values are. And you must assume our customers in the UK and Europe appreciate those values and will deepen their engagement with locally made products'. And they did. If you are values led, you let the outcomes unfold from your principles,” she says.
Over the past decade, KeepCup has made a notable contribution to creating a reuse culture in Australia and many other parts of the world. Reusable coffee cups have been normalised, and in some social circles are the new norm, even to the point where disposable cups are not considered. In a recent survey by KeepCup, 47 per cent of its customers said if cafés don’t accept their cup, they won’t order a coffee.
The environmental impacts of this shift in consumer behaviour are significant – KeepCup estimates its customers prevent eight billion disposable cups from ending up in landfill each year. This not only dramatically reduces unnecessary waste to landfills, but also greenhouse gas emissions. KeepCup commissioned third-party assessments on the impact of three of its products throughout their lifecycle and found they all had a significantly lower carbon footprint than single-use paper and compostable cups.
To further reduce the environmental impacts of its products, KeepCup has made its cups easily repairable and replaceable to extend their life and maximise the resources used to create the products. From the plug to the silicone band, all the components of a KeepCup are replaceable, so that if they break or are lost, the whole cup doesn’t have to be thrown away.
"Your actions have impact. Do not underestimate the impact of your actions as an individual, as an employee of a company, member of your family, social group, or community, it all adds up and shifts us in one direction or another. With KeepCup, a wonderful thing about it is that it's been a really visible way for people to signpost what they want for the world; how they want people to behave,” concludes Abigail.