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The Ecology Center, Vessel Launch Reusable Cup Service in Berkeley, Calif.

The pilot program will launch in mid-September at select food businesses on the UC Berkeley campus and in the Telegraph Avenue area in South Berkeley

The Ecology Center has announced the launch of Berkeley, Calif.'s first reusable cup service. The pilot program will launch in mid-September at select food businesses on the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) campus and in the Telegraph Avenue area in South Berkeley with Vessel, a reusable cup check out service. The announcement comes on the heels of the Single-Use Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance, which was recently passed in the city of Berkeley and led by Councilwoman Sophie Hahn and The Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque.

“We are so thrilled to kick off the reusable foodware revolution in Berkeley,” said Bourque in a statement. “Disposable foodware causes so many problems that we cannot recycle or compost our way out of. This pilot with Vessel is a real solution, one that will reduce both disposable plastic cups for cold drinks and disposable paper cups for hot drinks.”

“Bringing back reusables is our ultimate goal. They worked for millennia, and I am confident we can make them work again,” said Hahn in a statement. “This reuse pilot will allow us to explore new approaches to adapt reusables to current expectations for convenience, reduce waste and litter, and help our small businesses offer products that are attractive and convenient for customers.”

Vessel provides free, reusable, stainless-steel, thermal cups with silicone lids to participating customers through an online app much like a bike-sharing or library book system. Customers check out the cup by scanning a QR code on the cup with their phone's camera. When they are done, they can return the cup to any participating business within five days. If customers do not return the cup, they are charged for its cost. The dirty cups are then picked up by Vessel via a bicycle pedicab, sent to a sanitizing/washing station and then delivered back to cafes and restaurants for reuse.

“Vessel is honored to have been chosen to work with The Ecology Center and its strong team of partners in Berkeley to make reuse a reality for the community,” said Dagny Tucker, founder of Vessel, in a statement. “We look forward to providing our fiscally viable, turnkey solution for business and catalyzing the broader community with a totally accessible, superior cup experience that includes inspiring feedback on all the positive impacts associated with ditching disposables. The city of Berkeley and The Ecology Center have long been leaders in setting true sustainability standards, and we are excited to support them in forging the future of foodware.”

Vessel currently operates a reusable cup program in the city of Boulder, Colo., and has previously had success in piloting similar programming in Brooklyn, N.Y., and New York City. Vessel will be available at a minimum of 10 businesses in the campus and South Berkeley area and hopes to eliminate the need for the projected 1.5 million disposable cups those businesses would go through over a nine-month period.

Darryl Ross, the lead business champion for the pilot, already confirmed participation at Caffe Strada, a pillar in the city of Berkeley community for more than 30 years, and the four on-campus venues he runs, including the Free Speech Cafe at Moffitt Library.

“I feel privileged to be asked to participate in the pilot program with Vessel and to partner with all the great organizations involved and The Ecology Center,” said Ross in a statement. “We've had a long relationship with The Ecology Center and are excited to work with them to reduce the use of disposable cups in Berkeley.”

Other key partners in the project include the UC Berkeley Student Environmental Resource Center, which is providing key outreach and connection to the campus community through funding provided by the UC Berkeley Chancellor's Community Partnership Fund Award. Additional funding has been generously provided by the Plastic Solutions Fund and StopWaste. The Ecology Center is seeking additional donations to help make the pilot a success. The project will lead the way in providing crucial information for the know-how to establish a more expansive citywide program.

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