“We are proud to announce an experiment that may not work, that may cost us money, and that may make your life a little more complicated.”
So wrote Blue Bottle Coffee CEO Bryan Meehan late last week in a blog post introducing his company’s latest initiative: to turn Blue Bottle’s U.S. locations into zero-waste cafes by the end of 2020.
In the blog post, published at the tail end of last week, Meehan wrote that each Blue Bottle store goes through about 15,000 disposable cups per month in the U.S., which adds up to roughly 12 million cups per year. While the company did switch from bioplastic cups and straws to paper versions back in 2015, Meehan says the move is “still not enough.”
From Meehan’s blog post:
“By the end of 2020, all of our US cafes will be zero waste, which according to Zero Waste International Alliance, means at least 90 percent of our waste is diverted from landfill. To help us go even further, we will test our first zero-single-use-cup program in the San Francisco Bay Area.“
Blue Bottle will pilot this initiative by providing reusable cups users can get with “a modest deposit” and then return to the cafe for cleaning. Customers can also bring in their own reusable cups. Meanwhile, stores will sell whole bean coffee in bulk (meaning customers would bring their own containers) rather than single-use bags, and grab-and-go items will be packaged in reusable containers.
The move is in keeping with the sustainability goals of Nestlé, who owns a 68 percent stake in Blue Bottle. The Swiss company recently pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025 and make its packaging reusable and recyclable by the same time.
But as Meehan’s post points out, recycling is far from effective when it comes to combatting the single-use plastic problem. Currently, less than 10 percent of all plastic sold in the U.S. actually gets recycled. Instead, millions of tons wind up in landfills and the ocean. That phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” dates back to the 1970s, but it’s only recently that the first two words have seen a resurgence. By resurgence I mean they are actually getting mentioned once in a while when it comes to sustainability discussions. Getting consumers to use fewer single-use plastics for their day-to-day items — not just recycle them after the fact — could (theoretically) help shift some behaviors around what, when, and how we consume things.
Or it could just piss everyone off and send them running to Starbucks. There’s no guarantee customers be willing to pay that “modest deposit” in order to drink Blue Bottle’s coffee, or that ditching all single-use containers for food and beverages is economically feasible over the long term.
For his part, Meehan is aware of how tall an order Blue Bottle’s zero-waste initiative actually is:
“A commitment to reuse will wreak havoc on every aspect of our pilot cafe’s operations. We expect to lose some business. We might fail. We know some of our guests won’t like it—and we’re prepared for that. But the time has come to step up and do difficult things.”