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However one start-up founder isn’t satisfied with creating a recyclable product; instead he’s intent on changing the consumer mindset around recycling and single-use items.
“Even if we recycled at a rate of 100%, that wouldn’t be the answer,” explained David McLagan, the Australian-born founder of Ecoffee Cup. “We believe recycling just a way of allaying consumer guilt.
“Most single-use items get used for a few minutes and then get discarded. I think it’s possibly the most ridiculous misuse of resources that humans have ever come up with, defying economic logic on so many levels.
He added: “Relying on recycling does nothing to get people to think about their behavior, let alone change it.”
McLagan’s business, based in Amsterdam, focuses on “creating beautiful reusable products” that the company hopes will have a real impact on the “Mount Everest” of single-use packaging, through normalizing the use of permanent coffee cups, rather than simply recycling disposable ones.
Ecoffee evolved from its status as a giftware manufacturer in 2014, when McLagan had a wake-up moment whilst at a trade show.
“I just looked at the mountains of waste and decided enough was enough,” he recalled. “While our old products were great – nice designs wrapped in nice packaging – ultimately we were just creating more stuff.”
It was also at the same time that McLagan realized single-use coffee cups aren’t recyclable.
“When we started in 2014, people liked our products for their aesthetic values, but were a bit stumped as to the problem we were trying to solve. Not unreasonably, back then everyone thought single-use cups were recyclable – so why would you carry a reusable?”
In 2017, retailers saw a dramatic rise in the sale of reusable coffee cups, and McLagan saw his business take off, and Ecoffee began partnering with cafes. In June 2018, one of the company’s partners, Boston Tea Party, made the decision to completely remove single-use cups from its 30 stores. The exercise was expensive: takeaway sales dropped by 25%. However staff turnover has dropped to zero, saving the business £1 million ($1.27 million) a year in training costs alone.
McLagan said the key is not to lecture or shame consumers, but instead inform and start on a practical basis.
“Mainstream behavior change is key, so alienation through finger pointing is counter-productive. We’re democratizing the notion of reuse. We don’t want to be elitist or preachy about it, but we do want people to stop and think about the impact they’re having, and how small, simple changes can have big impacts.
“We’re not advocating a zero waste lifestyle; that’s far too big a cross to bear for most people. Instead, what we are promoting is an inclusive community focused on sustainable changes in behavior.”
McLagan, who lives in Amsterdam with his wife and two children, believes offering a superior alternative to single-use items is vital.
“Our products are beautiful. We have 100 different designs, meaning there’s a cup to suit everyone’s style – or wardrobe. It’s the perfect product for the Instagram generation.”
The cup is made of natural bamboo fibre, cornstarch and resin, closely resembling a paper cup, but with no plastic or steel aftertaste. The business has seen around a 200% growth in turnover annually since launch, selling more than 4 million cups in 2018 with a turnover of $10 million
The company has just completed a capital raise with Triodos, an ethical bank based in the Netherlands, and turnover is project to grow to nearly $20 million in the 2019-20 financial year.
However, spike in demands remain unpredictable, and the company has run out of stock on several occasions – which can “really damage a business’ reputation”.
“Scaling to meet this kind of fluctuation – finite money with seemingly infinite demand – is really difficult.”
The company, which has almost 30 employees, has held off launching in the US, but plans to open an office in Brooklyn in 2019.
McLagan sees the US as a tougher nut to crack due to the potential for huge customer demand. “We want to ensure our fledgling brand is able to cope with the demand before we break into the market. But we’re excited to be working with a soon-to-be-announced coffee chain in the US which will provide us with a high profile springboard into the West Coast market.”
He added: “Somewhat bitter-sweetly, the opportunities for business growth are everywhere, such is the scale of the problem.”
At the heart of Ecoffee, lies an easy-to-measure simple impact proposition. “If 2m people chose to reuse their cup just once a week it would save 104m cups a year from landfill.
“Extrapolate that same logic over the 10 trillion other single-use items in the hands of 7 billion people and you begin to see how small changes can have a big impact.”
“The problem is so large, so ubiquitous within modern society that making a true, lasting impact will take a decades to achieve. There is no quick fix to this massive problem and no silver bullet,” McLagan added.
“I genuinely feel we’re only getting started in our quest to change the world.”
Lucy covers social business, environment and gender, and can be found tweeting @sherrifflucy
January 10, 2019 at 12:51PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs