COVID-19: Can I Use My Reusable Cup?

Cafés across New Zealand are rejecting customer’s reusable cups for takeaway coffee as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Founder of Takeaway Throwaways Laura Cope says “given that COVID-19 is transmitted via respiratory droplets, we recognise that customer-provided resuable cups could be seen to pose potential cross-contamination risk, as cafes cannot guarantee that customers have cleaned their cup between uses. Cafes, restaurants and outlets are within their rights to reject reusables”. 

While this is a step backwards for zero-waste advocates, it’s also a reminder that the New Zealand government needs to back the use of reusables by putting a scheme in place which covers the topic of sterilisation.  

Takeaway Throwaways’ policy representative Hannah Blumhardt explains that schemes can be designed with sterilisation built into the infrastructure, “making them resilient in health and civil emergency situations”. 

Hannah notes that “for some people with medical conditions that compromise their immune systems, the need for sterile serviceware is a daily consideration, even without a global pandemic. The Takeaway Throwaways campaign has always emphasised how scaleable reuse systems must be accessible for everyone, which includes stringent hygiene considerations”. 

Takeaway Throwaways says the public should follow the Ministry of Health’s advice for further updates that may impact the position in relation to reusable serviceware. In the meantime, Takeaway Throwaways encourages users of reusables to consider the following:

  • Many cafes are still accepting reusable cups. If you go to these outlets with your reusables, ensure you have washed them thoroughly with soap and hot water between each use (as you should be doing anyway!). 
  • If you become symptomatic, do not use reusable takeaway cups. In fact, don’t go out to get coffee at all. In the words of Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, at the 11 March 2020 Ministry of Health COVID-19 update: “you shouldn’t be going out with your Keep Cup if you’re symptomatic… if you’ve got your Keep Cup and you’re going out for a coffee then we’ll assume you’re well… If you’re not well, you’re not going to be using your Keep Cup because you’ll be at home.”
  • If you find yourself at a café that has temporarily stopped accepting customers’ reusable cups (which they are within their rights to do – don’t argue), simply order your coffee to “have here”, sit down, and drink the coffee out of the cafe’s in-house ceramic mug.
  • If the coffee vendor you’re at uses disposables only and won’t accept your reusable cup, get your coffee somewhere else that does use in-house washable ceramic cups.
  • If you can’t take a moment to sit down and you really want to takeaway, choose a cafe that uses a cup lending system where the cups are sterilised between uses (such as Again Again or Cupcycling). Or else order your coffee to “have here” and when it arrives, pour it into your reusable cup.
  • If you find yourself in a situation where there is nowhere where 3, 4, or 5 is an option, consider going without a barista coffee. You can make yourself a brew at home.

You can check out the Takeaway Throwaways website for more information and sign the petition to call on the Government to implement a reusables scheme here.

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