by Umeko Motoyoshi, @wastingcoffee
Should I stay or should I go? In cafes, the question is all about cups. Coffee to stay is served in ceramic, while to-gos come in paper or plastic. And a lot of customers are on the go. Nationwide, billions of coffee cups are thrown out each year. That’s right, thrown out. Due to their plastic lining, even paper cups are not recyclable. Additionally, their manufacturing process wastes millions of trees and billions of gallons of water, and it’s estimated that each cup creates 0.24 lbs of CO2 emissions.
In Kansas City, MO, local cafe Oddly Correct is taking a different approach. They’ve replaced single-use cups with glass jars. Inspired by Horizon Line Coffee in Des Moines, Iowa, Oddly launched their glass to-go program in November of 2019. Customers bring their own mugs or grab an Oddly jar for a $1 deposit. They can either keep the jar or bring it back to Oddly, where it is cleaned and reused - and the deposit is refunded.
Says Mike Schroeder, Oddly’s Roaster and Company Director, “We just thought, now is the time to try this sort of thing, even if it’s risky.”
Careful planning was key to the program’s successful launch. Oddly started by sourcing the perfect lidded glass jar. It could hold any to-go beverage and fit in a cupholder. They also created a washable custom koozie to go with each jar.
“The sleeve protects people’s hands,” says Mike, “But also we wanted people to feel excited about this and have a sense of pride in it. So we wanted it to look nice.”
Oddly Correct’s cost for one jar-and-koozie unit totals approximately $1.40, and they started with 1,000 of each.
“We just charge $1 and then take on the remainder of the cost,” says Mike. “Some of that is offset by the fact that we’re not doing the single-use materials.” Oddly Correct hopes to see the program become a closed loop system, with customers consistently returning jars. This would also reduce costs over time.
What was it like to implement this radical change? “We knew it might be a thing,” says Mike, “So we announced it a week ahead of time on social media. We put up signage in shop, on the front door and at the bar. The baristas had the conversation with customers at the register. And we did our best to say why we were doing it and answer those questions.”
Oddly Correct’s Instagram announcement explained how they’d seen climate change impact the coffee industry. “Even as a small company,” the post read, “We feel we have to do what we can to minimize our negative impact and make our own process as sustainable as possible.”
When the jars finally launched, Oddly’s regulars were already looped in and ready to go. Says Mike, “We were pleasantly surprised by just how positive everyone was.”
As reusable to-go programs rise in popularity, it’s crucial to note potential impacts to accessibility. For many disabled people, glass and ceramic cups are too heavy or slippery to handle. Oddly Correct still keeps single-use cups on hand. Says Mike, “We don’t want to create a situation where someone can’t be treated well because of who they are.”
Bay Area disability activist Alice Wong explains, “[Glass and ceramics] add another layer of difficulty as a disabled person to just enjoy a drink like anybody else.” Wong suggests structuring reusable cup programs as opt-in affairs, so that disabled folks are not required to disclose medical information in order to receive service.
Mike hopes to see more cafes adopt some form of reusable to-go program, and wants to be a resource to others. “We’ve taken a ton of questions from people and we’re super excited and happy to help.”
About the Author
Umeko Motoyoshi is an award-winning coffee writer and educator. A licensed Q-Grader with fourteen years of experience, they founded coffee sustainability platform @wastingcoffee and authored the book Not Wasting Coffee. Umeko is also founder of Umeshiso.com, an online coffee supply shop specializing in rainbow cupping spoons. Umeko’s mission is to make coffee accessible, empowering, and welcoming for people of all backgrounds and identities.