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It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee (without the plastic lid)

Rebecca Prince-Ruiz | 27 May 2020

As we wake up to the idea of life post-COVID-19 full lockdown, it is important we put sustainability firmly back on the agenda.

Taking inspiration from the wise words of Professor Mary-Louise McLaws – Professor of Epidemiology, Healthcare Infection and Infectious Diseases Control at the University of New South Wales and adviser to the World Health Organisation. “We can do two things at once – take care of our health and reduce our impact on the environment. There is simply no excuse.’” 

But where to start? People don’t want to think about another crisis. How do we encourage people to choose sustainability now? 

From years of research and evaluation of the impact of the Plastic Free July challenge, we know that it is critical to start small and build momentum. From 40 people to 250 million participants over a decade we’ve seen that relatively small daily actions, made by many, can have a massive impact. 

The simple act of getting a morning coffee from the local café is a great example. This daily habit of millions of people has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, as café owners have taken precautionary measures such as declining reusable coffee cups and cash payments.  

Here I break down how you can move into the new normal, still minimizing risk of infection but championing waste avoidance.

Understanding the science

We know COVID-19 is a respiratory, not gastrointestinal virus and there is no current evidence you become infected by eating the coronavirus. 

We know the common soap or household disinfectant can kill the virus and so normal washing of dishes in hot water using detergent is likely to completely inactivate any coronavirus present. 

We have also not seen any evidence to suggest there is any benefit of throw-away disposables vs reusable cups if the measures to minimize transmission from one person to another is effective. 

Therefore, as long as baristas (and customers) are regularly washing their hands and not touching the rim of the cups and we continue to follow social distancing, reusable cups can be put back on the agenda. 

Learn, adapt and move forward 

As a first step get informed of the official guidance in your local area. Most government bodies have a website dedicated to answering COVID-19 related questions. 

Armed with an understanding of the science and government guidelines, start a conversation with your local café. Many owners have so much going on they haven’t time to look into government restrictions. 

Explain that as a customer you have a responsibility to wash your reusable cup in hot soapy water and ensure it is super clean. As a café owner, they can reduce touchpoints during coffee-making protocol. There is also a growing number of ‘cup swap’ initiatives around the world such as Green Caffeen, Vessel, Again Again that allow a customer to be served their coffee in a sanitized resuable coffee cup. The customer brings the cup back next visit, the café washes it, in the meantime serving the daily coffee in a new washed cup!

Take the lid off

Did you know that our senses of smell and taste are directly related? 

As you speak to your local café owner, you can discuss the possibility of changing the status quo to consider accepting reusables, ‘opt in’ for lids for takeaways, straws, cutlery, sauce sachets to help everyone else in your community to choose to refuse single-use plastic as well. 

When it comes to our new normal, we all have a choice to be part of the solution. 

By starting with your daily coffee that you can smell, without the lid, you can be safe in the knowledge that together we can make a real difference and be part of the change we want to see. 

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What you can do to avoid plastic

Want some tips to find out how you can reduce plastic waste? The good news is, anyone can get involved. You can start out small, or really challenge yourself. Get inspired!

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