The Ecology Center and Vessel on September 18 officially launched their reusable cup service pilot in the city of Berkeley, Calif. This pilot takes aim at the 41 million disposable cups used annually in Berkeley, providing a convenient alternative to disposable and compostable cups.
"With the international impact of disposable foodware becoming so clear in recent years, we must demonstrate that reusable solutions can prevent pollution and improve people's dining experience at the same time," said Martin Bourque, executive director of The Ecology Center, in a statement. "This reusable cup program will provide a critical experience toward creating ubiquitous citywide reusable programs that can serve whole communities and eliminate unnecessary disposable foodware."
Boulder, Colo.-based Vessel said it has had great successes implementing its reusable cup program in the city of Boulder and previously as a pilot in Manhattan and Brooklyn, N.Y. Participating locations in Berkeley currently include Caffè Strada, Cafe Zeb, Cafe Think, Free Speech Movement Café, Press Cafe, The Musical Offering Café, Northside Cafe, Brewed Awakening, Babette Cafe on and off-campus and People's Cafe. The variety and the close proximity of these Berkeley-based vendors will provide key data and know-how to inform the potential of a larger-scale program and potentially the progression to foodware containers in the near future.
"Vessel's circular economy solution rewrites the linear model of take, make, waste with its innovative 'bike-share for cups' service," said Dagny Tucker, founder of Vessel, in a statement. "Our model for reducing the use of disposable cups—so ubiquitous in our on-the-go culture—introduces a simple, tech-enabled 'grab, go, drop' model that disrupts our current wasteful throwaway habit. Health department certified, Vessel takes the hassle out of reusables! We wash, sanitize and then deliver in FDA-approved [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] containers, making reusability a reality for communities, vendors and consumers alike."
The Vessel system allows the customer to check-out the stainless steel cup, 12 ounce or 16 ounce, by QR code and then drop it off at another participating location or Vessel kiosk. The cups are then collected by Vessel via pedicab and taken to a health department-approved washing and sanitizing station.
The Ecology Center and Vessel hope this solution will allow the everyday customer the ease to take part in a global movement to address this threat to the planet and communities. In the U.S., there are 58 billion cups thrown away annually. These single-use disposable cups wreak havoc on the oceans and storm drains and cost millions more to shuffle around. It's also becoming more evident that while recycling and composting are essential services, the world cannot recycle its way out of the disposable foodware waste. Reusables can be a vital component in eliminating this global waste, and this pilot aims to demonstrate their potential.
The pilot started through a partnership between The Ecology Center, UC Berkeley Student Environmental Resource Center, the UC Office of Sustainability and the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District with funding from UC Berkeley Chancellor's Community Partnership Fund Award. Additional funding has been provided by Plastic Solutions Fund and StopWaste. Ecology Center is seeking additional funding to continue and expand this work beyond the pilot.
The pilot program comes on the heels of the first phase implementation of the Single-Use Disposable Foodware Litter Reduction Ordinance, which will include a 25 cent charge on all disposable cups starting January 1, 2020.