Is LIFETIME REUSABLE PLASTIC really that bad? Here's what we know...
It's 2021 and you, the consumer, want and deserve to know exactly what you are buying when it comes to a reusable cup.
At IdealCup, we have ALWAYS been 100% transparent about why we chose to make our cups from REUSABLE PLASTIC (not to be confused with single use plastic) and about the materials we use to make them.
We've been on this journey for over 10 years and it's important to remember, when we started our journey, there was NO ONE ELSE making a reusable cup in New Zealand - sustainability wasn't even commonplace.
Choosing to be New Zealand's very first designed and made reusable cup was not something we took lightly. It's was a very big, hairy and audacious undertaking and we were putting our proverbial 'balls on the line'.
Watch-listen to Steph on a recent Buy NZ Made Podcast, which tells the story of why we choose to be MADE IN NEW ZEALAND and our journey so far:
At the time, back in 2010, we were very alone in this space, striving to come up with a product which was going to change the face of day-to-day consumerism in the coffee space. We knew something had to be done and instead of just sitting back and talking about it and waiting for someone else to do it - you know what, we just got on with doing something about the 295 million single use cups ending up in landfill every year in New Zealand!
We had no doubt in our minds others would follow and in some opinions, what were considered preferred versions of reusable cups would eventually make it to the market, such as glass and stainless (which are made in China and cannot be repurposed at their end of the lifecycle in NZ). We did our home work and concluded for us, with the immediate landscape in front of us, we would chose to work with REUSABLE PLASTIC.
Our decision to make our cups with REUSABLE PLASTIC was driven by a number of factors and not limited to:
- What product can we make a cup from which is cost effective, so we can ensure we are making a product which will be accessible to the majority
- What product can we MAKE IN NEW ZEALAND, to support our economy, employee people and work with other kiwi businesses
- And probably most importantly, what material can we use which will be strong, durable, able to be used over and over and over (for instance in a Cup Swap model where the cups are being used and washed thousands of times) and for a lifetime (we GUARANTEE this with our cups) and more importantly, we can manage its end of life effectively, i.e. Product Stewardship and right here in Wellington.
So REUSABLE PLASTIC it was. And that is when New Zealand's reusable cup journey began - right here, with little old us, husband and wife, trying to do our bit to change the way we all do 'day to day consumerism' and stop single use cups in their tracks.
For a number of years after we launched, our customers we're overjoyed to have a REUSABLE cup choice, which was made in New Zealand, robust, easy to drink out of and generally ticked all the boxes for them. We've sold a lot of cups and we have a massive number of passionate supporters, who still contact us to this very day, proudly telling us they're still using their IdealCup 6, 7, 8 years later and it's the best reusable cup they've every had (and they've all tried at least one other - broken glass cup anyone?).
Fast forward to 2021 and the landscape has become more of a minefield. There are oodles of reusable cup options available to consumers, thousands of them - 99% made offshore. The quality of most of them has cast a dubious shadow and inadvertently dumbed down the important stuff, like where is it made, will it last a lifetime, what's in it that might be bad for me etc.
Everyone has their individual preference and opinion... that's consumerism. Imagine if we all liked the very same thing... what sort of a world would that be!? Probably the loudest commentary we hear now is consumer's general disdain for plastic. Cast your mind back a few years, the turtle with the SINGLE USE straw up his nose. The images of thousands and thousands of SINGLE USE plastic bottles floating in the oceans. Then our Government announced we would be banning all SINGLE USE bags in supermarkets (well, not all, as they still allowed some bags of certain weights and fruit/vege bags to continue - sigh). We all dutifully obliged and now, pretty much every single one of us robotically carries reusable bags, boxes, containers to the supermarket/refillery, butchery etc).
But what this audacious announcement hailed was a genuine hatred for ALL plastic. The problem is, it's not all plastics which are bad plastics - it's what we choose to purchase and how we choose to use them which is the inherent problem.
Plastic has been around for a long time. It's an incredibly useful material. It's been used successfully in products such as Tuppaware and Sistema (I hazard a guess most of you will have at least one of those in your pantry - we've had some for decades and they're still going strong) - and do you own a cellphone, a laptop, a car, a bike, a dishwasher... pretty much all everyday items have plastic components.
But sadly, the introduction of SINGLE USE plastics has overwhelmed our consumerism and we've become a slave to it's convenience - and manufacturers have given us little choice but to purchase it, as they choose it as their preferred packaging material. It's everywhere we turn and it's overflowing our environment - and we couldn't agree more, that has to stop! We have to find better and more reliably sustainable ways to package.
It's so very important that we all do our bit to avoid choosing single use plastics (and all single use for that matter) and move to circular, reuse models. Circular Economy - where we REUSE over and over and over again. Encouraging businesses to make their products for a lifetime (or as close as they can) of use and having a process in place to manage the end of life of those products.
AOTEAROA IS BEHIND THE 8 BALL
Sadly New Zealand is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to alternative packaging, recycling and even composting. And not to mention lagging behind countries who have already declared BANS on most single-use service/food ware, like Germany, Canada and Western Australia.
Robust infrastructure and systems are not available for us to confidently choose products which can be effectively managed at the end of their useful life, including being composted (unless we do that at home and let's face it, most people don't have a compost at home, so the products end up in landfill).
We cannot rely on and wait for our Government to make the necessary changes and ban ALL SINGLE USE ITEMS (in our case, single use cups); so we stepped up and did it! We made a cup, out of a LIFETIME REUSABLE PLASTIC, in an effort to make some positive sustainable change for the food service industry.
LIFETIME REUSABLE PLASTIC... that's a fact. We guarantee our cups will last for a lifetime of reuse. We've designed the heck out of them (one of the most important steps in developing a circular product is design), ensuring their integrity and ensuring that if you choose an IdealCup, you're going to get a solid, reliable reusable cup which you can enjoy FOREVER!
BUT WHAT IF THEY'RE ALL MADE FROM NEW 'VIRGIN' MATERIAL?
And that leads us to the next point. Up until 18 months ago, all our cups were made from virgin PP material. We were always mindful that this wasn't the ideal solution; as we're making new product from new resources every time. We knew we had to do better and as any business journey goes, it does take time (and money, lots of money) to make these positive sustainable changes. And we did!
RECYCLED CONTENT CUPS
We weren't satisfied with just having a REUSABLE cup, we knew we could do better. So we set out on a journey of discovery, to try and find material which we could RECYClLE and include in the making of our cups. It took time and it's really tricky to get recycled material on a regularly and reliably - because it has to be CLEAN, it has to be PRE-CONSUMER, i.e. has never been used before it's included in our cups - because we don't know where it's been and what it's got in it, if it's POST-CONSUMER material.
In late 2019, in partnership with our manufacturer in Wellington, they managed to secure us a source of CLEAN RECYCLATE, which was from a food grade manufacturer in Lower Hutt. It was their 'waste material', which came off the production line when they made their food grade container. So it was perfect for what we needed to incorporate in to our RECYCLED CONTENT IdealCups. Unfortunately, at the time, there was only enough material from that source for us to make a small run of 100% recycled content cups and a larger run of 50% recycled content cups.
In addition to sourcing CLEAN RECYCLATE from other manufacturers in New Zealand, at any given time, we also have IdealCups which have been made for us and for various reasons (wrong colour/sratched or marked/end of colour run) they are not saleable. These are ideal for us to grind down to raw material and incorporate in to our IdealCups - Pre-Consumer, recyclate and we know exactly what's in them. This does mean the colours can be a little 'wonky' and we refer to them as our 'ugly cups'... at the end of the day, who cares what colour they are, as long as they're using more recycled material and still retaining their integrity of product.
We're proud members of Plastics New Zealand, which gives us industry access to manufacturers of other plastic products. We actively interact on the PNZ 'buy and exchange' portal, seeking clean, pre-consumer food grade PP.
The reality is, until we can get a reliable supply of recyclate right here in NZ, we will strive to put 50% recycled content in all our cups, as and when we can.
ENVIRONMENTAL CHOICE ACCREDITATION
In addition to making these significant and positive steps with recycled content in our cups, we also spent almost 2 years validating our product, our business and our credentials by way of applying to become Environmental Choice Certified. This is no mean feat and we put blood, sweat and tears in to gaining this certification. We were determined to show that we mean what we say, that we're striving to be the very best, most environmentally preferable reusable cup in Aotearoa. And we did it! Read more here:
As we've always done, we work continuously and tirelessly to do better... to make our product better... to provide a lifetime reusable cup which will go the distance and can be effectively managed at the end of its useful life, right here in Aoteaora. We've never purported to be experts or to have all the answers, we're just a husband and wife, who chose this journey because we felt something had to be done... and we did it!
So when you're next on a social platform or chatting with work colleagues, discussing the merits of various materials for reusable items and your first inclination is to disregard plastic, please stop and think, hmmm, there's a lot more to it than I may have appreciated and perhaps LIFETIME REUSABLE PLASTIC is a justified and good reusable option after all.
If we ALL do our little part, be open minded, do our research and really choose to understand the choices we're making, we can then make a BIG DIFFERENCE!