‘It’s as good as new’: Vancouver businesses adopt reusable cup-share programs to reduce waste

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On Jan. 1, the city of Vancouver became the first municipality in Canada to implement a single-use fee on disposable cups, and while many people are paying the extra 25 cents for a to-go beverage, interest in environmentally friendly alternatives appears to be growing.

Jason Hawkins co-founded Reusables.com in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The zero-waste packaging as a service platform operates like a bikeshare or carshare for containers, including stainless steel double-walled mugs.

Users download an app giving them access to the shareable containers at all of Reusables.com participating stores.

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Businesses scan the app user’s QR code and deliver their beverage in a clean and sanitized mug that must be returned within 14 days.

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“We’re really trying to help people change their behaviour and make it easy to do that and affordable,” Hawkins told Global News.

After a 30-day free trial, membership costs $5 per month.

Hawkins said more than 40 cafes and restaurants are on board in Vancouver and North Vancouver where local coffeehouse JJ Bean was one of the first to adopt the cup share program.

“I see the potential of growing,” said JJ Bean Dollarton manager Burak Atsan.

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“People are always curious about what this is and how this works.”

Even major players like A&W Canada are offering reusable cup share options for customers.

The fast food chain launched an exchangeable cup program last Sept. at twenty Greater Vancouver restaurants including its UBC location, where more than half of the approximately 2,000 current memberships were sold.

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“What it really is about is we do the dishes for our guests,” said A&W Canada president and CEO Susan Senecal.

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“So if you buy this cup and bring it back, we give you a brand new one.”

Members pay $3 to join the Cup Crew program and will receive a 20 cent discount each time they trade in their shareable cup to purchase another hot or cold drink in a reusable cup.

The cups are cleaned and sanitized under what Senecal describes as “super high temperatures” in A&W’s commercial dishwashers.

“You can have every guarantee that just like our rootbeer mugs, anything else that you get at A&W — it’s as good as new,” Senecal said.

One A&W cup share customer who joined to help the environment, said he was not concerned about sharing reusable items during the pandemic.

“If there [are] reasonable steps to make things clean, I think that’s communicated well — I don’t think that’s an issue,” he told Global News.

A&W is hoping to expand its shareable cup program to its restaurants across the country.

After a pandemic pause, Starbucks in Canada and the U.S. started accepting customers’ reusable cups again last summer in a contact free procedure available in-store only.

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The Seattle-based coffee giant is currently testing safe options for personal reusable cups in its drive-thrus.

“Across Canada, communities are watching the city of Vancouver to see how things progress with the bylaw,” said Hawkins.

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