Reusable coffee cups frankly make sense

Posted on 03 April 2017

Interview with Benjamin Young from Frank Green  

We love coffee so much that we drink it by the bucket load, three million cups a day to be precise. The number of take away coffee cups that end up in landfill has been quoted as anything from 500 million to one billion a year.

So what is the deal with so many coffee cups ending up in landfill? And what are the solutions?

I caught up with Benjamin Young who has been on a journey to launch his reusable cup company Frank Green.

Why did you start the company Frank Green?

I grew up in the North Shore of Sydney, and really didn’t understand the waste that was being produced from coffee and plastic generally. I knew I wanted to make a difference and left my corporate job to start a company that could make reusable products a part of everyday life.


What are the issues with disposable coffee cups in your opinion?

They are not recyclable due to the plastic lining, and even the biodegradable cups need a special machine to make them degradable. The lids are problematic too and end up in landfill. The recycling industry is all about labor vs. effort and it’s very hard to separate materials into individual streams to resell. It’s estimated that 50% of landfill is full of plastic, which would include single use coffee cups and plastic water bottles.

How many coffee cups end up in landfill?

Three million coffees are sold every day in Australia, and 1.5 million of these are in take away cups. So if you do the math, that’s around 550,000 million cups ending up in landfill each year.

Why are reusable cups better for the consumer?

At frank green it’s all about design and innovation. We’ve worked hard on perfecting the design, so not only do our SmartCups look good, they’re great to drink out of and they don’t leak. The SmartCups can also be operated one handed, with a simple push of the button – we’ve designed this as we recognise how important the experience of using the cup is. We’ve also developed and embedded technology into our SmartCups that allow cashless payments. CafePay has been designed to build the habit of using our SmartCups through loyalty and reward points. All of our products are also designed, engineered and made in Australia and are made of the highest grade recyclable BPA free co-polymer.

Why are they better for the environment?

You only have to use your SmartCup around 25 times for it to ‘pay back’ the environment in regards to its embedded energy cost.

What is the uptake of reusable cups in Australia?

We have found that 50% of our customers have never used a reusable product before. We are bringing first time users to the market and they are clearly enjoying the experience and the benefits and are not going back to disposable cups.

It’s all about behavior change and turning reusable use into habit and ritual. The rewards help create the habit, more so than people’s motivation to do better by the environmentFrank Green SmartCups and SmartBottles are sold in over 1000 cafes and retailers across Australia and growing, and we export to 50 countries worldwide.

Do consumers want the change?

There is so much education out there now, for example Craig Reucassel from The Chaser has taken on this burden himself with his three-part TV series, War On Waste, and filled a Melbourne tram full of used coffee cups to make the point that 50,000 cups reach landfill every 30 minutes.

Awareness is increasing but consumers don’t want to pay more or lose functionality and convenience, that’s why we lead our marketing efforts with style, functionality and innovation.  In terms of sustainability it’s usually 4th or 5th on the list in terms of consumer decision making when purchasing.

Where do you think we are headed?

I don’t think it’s long before we’re all using reusables, however, it’s important to respect the needs of our customers and ensure the user experience provides them with a real solution that makes their life easier.  Cities around the world including New York, Montreal, Vancouver and Paris are leading the way with reusable policy, through the ban of all single use coffee cups and we hope to see this replicated in Australia and other countries and cities around the world. This sounds great to us, because at frank green, we’re all for our future.


By Asha Kayla, Sustainable Communities Manager

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    published Reusable coffee cups frankly make sense in Blog 2017-04-03 08:40:22 +1000
    commented on Reusable coffee cups frankly make sense 2017-03-08 15:07:10 +1100
    Reusable cups are most definitely the more sustainable option, however not many consumers are willing to sacrifice the convenience of a paper cup provides. If you look at he uptake of reusable bags vs regular plastic bags at supermarkets, you will find that the majority of consumers still use plastic bags. If we all strive to minimize our environmental impact, whilst still enjoying modern conveniences of take out meals, we would need to leave the house with a reusable cup, a cloth carry bag, metal cutlery sets and a plate or Tupperware. If you had more than 1 take out drink or meal per day you would also need access to water and detergent to clean these reusable items. I don’t believe its realistic to expect everyone to switch to reusables. Rather we should be designing & manufacturing disposables that fit into a circular economy – produced from renewable resources using renewable energy and all components being recycled back into the system after use. Nature is abundant, every year nature produces 105 billion metric tons of biomass, this material is reabsorbed into the environment and does not harm or pollute. Manufacturing is slowly evolving to replicate natures closed loop process where there is no waste.

    Im not sure where the stats are from but plastics certainly don’t account for 50% of landfill volume. In most studies it is less than 15% .

    The high fabrication energy required for the reusable cups becomes unimportant over enough uses – 500 or more, compared to the energy required to wash and sanitize them for reuse. The wash energy alone is more than half that required to make a paper cup.