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How bRU Coffee is Upping its Cup Game

Grabbing a coffee before work or when meeting up with friends is a simple pleasure. Unfortunately, it’s also linked to the most commonly used single-use plastic item – the ‘disposable’ coffee cup. As the Plastic Free Foundation’s behavioural economist Colin Ashton-Graham says, there’s no such thing as a ‘fun fact’, especially with a statistic as stark as our single-use coffee cup consumption. Increasingly, though, small businesses are countering this with simple, low-cost solutions. Nestled in iconic Bondi Beach in Sydney, bRU Coffee is just one example of an enterprise offering a simple way to ‘Up Your Cup’ with far-reaching impact.

Globally, coffee consumption is big business. Worldwide, billions of single-use cups are used. These are either made from plastic or paper (with a thin plastic lining), with the vast majority landfilled. Many are littered and become plastic pollution . It’s something that small business owners like Sondra Beram from Bondi’s bRU Coffee are working hard to change. Sondra describes bRU Coffee as “a tiny café with the biggest heart”. It’s a hole-in-the-wall establishment and go-to spot for tourists and celebrities (actor Sam Neill is a customer when in town)  as well as locals including the legendary Bondi Salties who reward themselves with a hot drink after their early Friday morning swims.

Keeping it Clean

Passionate about the stunning surfside environment she calls home, Sondra decided to embark on a simple yet workable solution to help remove single-use cups by setting up a library labelled ‘Don’t be a Mug’ with a stash of quirky and colourful reusable mugs for customers to take and return.

Originally, Sondra fossicked for mugs in second-hand stores, but now she rarely needs to top up supplies with many customers bringing their own cups from home. Most are returned so there are plenty in circulation. After use, the mugs are commercially cleaned in the café’s dishwasher before being stored behind the counter so the barista can select an appropriately-sized mug tailored to each customer’s coffee order.

“Sometimes when I arrive at work there are cups lined up outside,” Sondra said. Having started the Mug Library, she’s surprised by how straightforward it is. “You carry your phone, so just carry your cup. I hope other cafés try a Mug Library and see just how easy it is.”

Building on the Mug Library’s momentum, in 2021, Sondra collaborated with renowned journalist and author Sarah Wilson to initiate #ByoCupWeek with other cafés in Bondi. Part of this process was to educate café owners and coffee lovers that bringing or borrowing a cup is as safe as a single-use cup when health and hygiene standards are followed.

Word Up Customers

Key to #ByoCupWeek’s success was reminding customers in the lead up through word of mouth and social media. This resulted in a huge uptake. In 10 days, bRU Coffee served around 3,700 takeaway coffees in reusable cups.

Reinforcing why alternatives are not a ‘hard ask’ is also vital. Words play a big part in the acceptance or rejection of single-use plastic. Knowing current health legislation and training staff in skills such as contactless pouring can help spread the message to others that reusables are a safe alternative.

“We ask our customers, ‘Do you want to use one of our cups or do you want a single-use cup’” Sondra said. “When we changed from using words like ‘takeaway cup’ or ‘disposable cup’ and switched to using ‘single-use’, people’s behaviour really changed. They didn’t like the idea of using something that was ‘single-use’ whereas the word takeaway can be associated with being busy,” Sondra said.

Coinciding with 2022’s Plastic Free July, bRU Coffee is now 100 per cent single-use cup free.

“When we changed from using words like ‘takeaway cup’ or ‘disposable cup’ and switched to using ‘single-use’, people’s behaviour really changed. They didn’t like the idea of using something that was ‘single-use’.”

Sondra Beram, Owner of bRU Coffee Bondi

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