As the grab-and-go coffee industry continues to grow, raining a torrent of beans across the world, the number of single-use coffee cups and plastic lids piling up in garbage cans is swelling with it. According to the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, people worldwide use 500 billion plastic cups each year, and the Portland, Oregon-based group Recycling Advocates estimates that 50 million disposable coffee cups end up in the trash annually from the Portland metro area alone. Worse, a Starbucks study claims that counting manufacturing, every disposable coffee cup tossed into the landfill is responsible for releasing .24 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.
All of this weighs heavily on the mind of Elise Malterre, a third-year student at Boise's student-led One Stone High School. She decided to use One Stone's business incubator, Solution Lab, as a jumping-off point in her efforts to bring a reusable cup-based solution to Boise and reduce the local waste stream.
"Even just the possibility for impact is what's driving me and what I'm excited about," she told BW.
On March 12, Malterre organized a meeting at One Stone that brought representatives from Neckar Coffee, Dawson Taylor Coffee Roasters, the Zero Waste Boise Institute and Treefort Music Festival together at one table to brainstorm ideas, share roadblocks and troubleshoot potential programs. Initial investment costs, the difficulties of getting people to remember their reusable cups, the logistics of washing the cups after drop-off and more were raised for debate.
"Getting everyone in a room together to kind of collaborate on something like this was exciting. It's daunting and kind of overwhelming, but it was exciting," Malterre said.
Though the owners of Form & Function Coffee couldn't make the meeting, they'd been in touch with Malterre, and Co-owner Kate Seward was the first to make a move on a swap program. On May 24, Seward met with the City of Boise to propose her plan to bring HuskeeSwap, an Australian cup swap program that features reusable vessels made from the recycled husks of coffee beans, to Boise. City representatives, Seward said, were excited to see a company tackling the waste problem.
"Obviously Huskee is a company, and so a city can't impose a company [on people], but they can encourage people to do different programs that are already implementing or reducing waste," Seward said.
The HuskeeSwap process is simple. Coffee shops buy a stock of HuskeeCups in multiple sizes, then sell them to customers for $16-$20. From there, a member can bring that used HuskeeCup to any participating coffee shop, which will take it and exchange it for a fresh one filled with their chosen drink.
- Courtesy Huskee / Form & Function
The key to success, Seward said, will be bringing enough other coffee shops on board to make buying into the program attractive to customers.
"I don't want this to be a Form & Function thing. I want this to be a citywide initiative that [sees] cafes band together to reduce waste," she said.
- Courtesy Form & Function
Seward has had her eye on Huskee since its days of fundraising on Kickstarter. Six months after Form & Function opened, it started stocking some of America's first HuskeeCups on top of its espresso machine, but the swap program is still in its infancy in the U.S., and the lid/cup combos won't arrive in Boise for another three weeks. As of May 3, Form & Function's sister shop District Coffee House was on board to join the swap, along with Eighth Street favorite Slow by Slow. Seward said downtown Boise's Guru Donuts and Neckar Coffee, and Hyde Park's Certified Kitchen + Bakery, were all considering joining as well, and representatives of the Boise branches of Java, Flying M and Dawson Taylor all told BW they'd be interested in learning more about the program.
Boise Flying M Manager Will Gillett said the concept of reducing waste is in line with Flying M's ideals, though he wasn't familiar with HuskeeSwap. In 2018, the Boise shop gave $4,200 in discounts for people bringing in their own cups—a total of 13,000 separate transactions.
"We'd have to have a pretty solid idea of how the cost would be handled," Gillett said of HuskeeSwap. "... But it's something that definitely, if we had more information and saw how it was implemented around the town, [we] would definitely consider."
Zoe Shealy, co-owner of Neckar Coffee, said she too was waiting for more information, like a cost-benefit analysis of the program and news about its success in other cities. That said, she gave the prospect of reducing Boise's waste a big thumbs-up.
"We're stoked for Form & Function," she said. "It will be really interesting. I'm really excited to see kind of how [the introduction of HuskeeSwap] plays out."
As for Malterre, her own solution was still in progress as of May 5.
"This isn't the result of my project, although I have talked to Kate along the way," she told BW.
If things continue as planned, Boiseans may soon have not one but two fresh ways to lessen the landfill load of coffee cups.