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New Vancouver mug-sharing programs offer fix for takeout waste

Originally posted by the Vancouver Sun - October 2019

Two Vancouver-based mug-sharing programs are trying to get coffee-lovers to ditch their addiction to single-use paper cups.

mugshare offers reusable bamboo cups in a deposit-and-return scheme it hopes would reduce the whopping 2.6 million disposable paper cups thrown out each week in the city of Vancouver.

“It’s really crazy when you think about it and let that number soak in,” said mugshare’s Melanie Chanona, a UBC Ph.D. student.

Research has shown many people don’t bring their own mugs because they’re bulky, inconvenient or they forget to wash it.

“We designed mugshare to eliminate those barriers but not lose the convenience of using a takeout coffee mug,” she said.

The program, which is run by five UBC students and alumni, started in 2016. This spring it expanded outside of campus and now has about 22 partners, including J.J. Bean and Cartems donuts, in Vancouver.

It allows people to make a $2 deposit for a reusable mug when grabbing coffee on the go. Once they’re ready, they can return the cup — even if it’s unwashed — to any participating business and get the deposit back. The cafes then wash the mugs in industrial dishwashers before putting them back on shelves.

About 6,000 of the black mugs with the distinctive aqua lid are in circulation, said Chanona.

Getting more partners on board is crucial to the program’s success, she said. “The larger the network, the more convenient it is for everybody. We want mugshare to be available where you are.”

It plans to expand to high-density areas, including downtown Vancouver and Mount Pleasant. It’s also looking into making its mugs fully compostable or more recyclable and switching to a local supplier to cut back on shipping costs and its environmental footprint.

In Vancouver, disposable cups and containers make up nearly 50 per cent of volume of trash collected from street garbage bins, costing taxpayers about $2.5 million per year to collect.

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