Disposable culture is all around us. In the packaging we see at the grocery store, the cups we take away from coffee shops, and even the belongings we gather throughout our lives. Some of these may be unavoidable given certain lifestyles, but there is one way to combat unnecessary solid waste from entering our landfills: reuse.
Abigail Forsyth is the Managing Director and Co-founder of KeepCup, the most recognizable, repairable, and barista-friendly reusable coffee cup in the world. Abigail is an expert in educating the public on disposable culture and at KeepCup, her goals involve minimizing the company’s overall environmental impact and bringing further innovation to the already socially conscious business.
On the Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship Podcast, Abigail detailed the amount of waste management involved even in developing eco-friendly products and she touched on how KeepCup is reusing nearly every material that would normally leave the factory floor in a garbage bag.
What is Reuse?
Reuse is simply new use—repurposing something you already have to give it another life. This isn’t a novel concept, and often we reuse things quite naturally. But as convenience and disposable culture have taken over, it’s become less commonplace for companies to repurpose scraps and even for individual people to reuse a glass container before recycling it.
Quick Notes On Consumption
According to The Story of Stuff, if everyone consumed goods at the rate of the United States, we would need three to five planets. We constantly consume and are made to believe that we need more…and more…and more. This mindless consumption is only making our lives harder and less healthy, since plastic pollution affects humans and most goods have some form of plastic in or around them.
Consumption is a difficult concept to address and remedy, but it’s not impossible. By making mindful decisions like reusing, we can all do our part to protect the planet and support businesses working to make it a healthier place to live. Consuming in excess in itself is an issue, but what we’re consuming and how we’re thinking about its end of life is also a crucial piece of the puzzle that’s worth considering.
How Does Reusing Help The Environment?
You probably recognize reuse from the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra. Usually, we default to the recycle part of that statement because, generally, it imposes the least amount of effort required. However, reduce and reuse are actually the most effective things we can be doing to help the planet!
Reusing puts less demand on supply chains to create new products, which use up natural resources. In making less, we’re preventing greenhouse gases from being emitted in the first place. Reusing also reduces pollution. For every one can of garbage you put to the curb, 70 cans of garbage were produced upstream when those goods were made. So, each garbage can represents 70 others waiting for it in our landfills. And our landfills are the third-largest producer of human-related methane gas emissions. Our stuff (and trash!) has an immediate and harmful effect on the warming of the planet.
So, reusing goods can help reduce the negative impacts of climate change, which is better for people and the planet! Abigail mentioned on the podcast that she was devastated by the destruction caused by the Australian Bush Fires in early 2020. If we collectively make impactful decisions like reusing, we can help to reverse the likelihood of damaging weather events, like the fires.
Benefits of Reuse
There are many benefits to reusing what we already have. If slowing climate change and reducing pollution isn’t enough, it’s also a great way to connect to a new community. Think back to the milkmen of the 1950s. Instead of purchasing plastic jugs, the milkmen brought glass containers of fresh milk to doorsteps and collected the empty bottles to clean and refill. While supermarkets largely replaced this process, it’s making a comeback in some areas. People appreciate the convenience and benefit of supporting local dairy farmers, while consuming less and reusing more! Similarly, companies like Plaine Products use the milkman model to refill beauty product containers instead of using plastic.
Another benefit of reuse is saving money. There’s more to using mason jars to store dry goods than just trendiness (although who doesn’t love a dreamy pantry stocked with jars?!). This is actually a great way to save money on storage containers. Plus, you can use glass for years, since it’s a super durable material.
Examples of Reuse
Using the sharing economy like the public library, car sharing, and even services like Airbnb all have a lower environmental impact than purchasing new goods or staying in a hotel. By sharing (reducing and reusing!) these goods, we’re a part of a community that puts value on what we already own and have.
One industry in particular that thrives when it comes to reuse is construction. Many building materials can be repurposed, like concrete, steel, drywall, glass, and even flooring. While there can be challenges in reusing these materials, architects are coming up with unique ways to reuse these otherwise consumptive materials.
Donating used goods and clothing is also an example of reuse! Goodwill is one of the most prominent nonprofit thrift stores in the country, and it uses the sales from its donated goods to fuel programs that create jobs. Another way to reuse and participate in circular fashion is through Helpsy, which sorts donated textiles and gives them to secondhand stores or upcycles them into insulation.
Ditching disposable culture is one of the most impactful examples of reuse on an individual level. Switching to reusable coffee cups, reusable water bottles, and expanding into a zero-waste lifestyle has huge benefits for the planet and saves your wallet some cash in the long run.
KeepCup: The World’s First Barista Friendly Reusable Cup
KeepCup was born in 2007 as the world’s first barista-friendly reusable cup. Uniquely, the product itself was specifically designed to work for both the customers and baristas. Coming in an array of vibrant colors with mix and match pieces, KeepCups are customizable to match your style so each seamlessly becomes an out-the-door staple.
As a company that values sustainability in business, ingrained throughout the product development and business model of KeepCup is a sense of reuse. Each KeepCup is designed for a long lifespan, and the company is mindful of each cup’s carbon emissions and lifecycle. This information is easily accessible to customers, which helps solidify their purpose as a mission-driven company.
Each byproduct of production is recycled, reused, or stocked while they search for a responsible solution for disposal.
KeepCup is a founding B Corp and is aiming to be Net Zero by 2025—further exemplifying their commitment to transparency and better for the world operations.
Now with more than 10 years in business, KeepCup has sold more than 10 million cups, which means around 8 billion plastic and paper coffee cups not headed to a landfill each year. In the next 10 years, KeepCup is ready to address the threat of climate change even more holistically by undertaking a new project to diversify and rehabilitate a plot of land damaged by the Bushfires in Australia.
Abigail Forsyth, Managing Director & Co-Founder of KeepCup
While working in an array of Melbourne cafes in the late 1990s, Abigail saw a problem. Tons and tons of disposable cups were being used, and since they’re not recyclable, simply thrown in the trash. Plus, the user experience for takeaway cups wasn’t pleasant, so people weren’t excited to use them.
Beyond equipping people with the tools needed to fight single-use products, Abigail is an advocate on behalf of her customers in the quest to save the planet and ditch disposables.
“How do you make this whole ecosystem that you’re running, you’ve got employees that you’ve got to look after, you work in a community, what does that look like? It’s all the pieces of the puzzle. I think your advocacy has to come from there in order to be authentic and genuine and sustainable in what it’s saying.”
How Can We Reduce, Reuse, Recycle In Everyday Life?
- Abandon Single Use Products: Single use products exist everywhere. But, phasing them out of your life in the first place and reusing what you already have makes a huge impact in your personal waste footprint. Start small, like saying ‘no’ to shopping bags. Also, check out our guide on how to go plastic free.
- Invest In Reusables: Just as KeepCup solves the issue of disposable coffee cups, other companies exist solely to reduce plastic in other areas of your life too. Check out plastic free shampoo and conditioner for going zero-waste in the bathroom or even the compostable Pela phone case.
- Maintain & Repair: Repairing clothing and homegoods is a great way to save money and the planet! Some brands like Patagonia or REI even help you learn how to patch up old gear.
- Borrow or Rent: In need of a drill to set up your new apartment? Ask a friend! Don’t want to buy your own lawnmower or chest freezer? Share with a neighbor! Tons of online platforms encourage sharing and borrowing.
- Get Crafty: So many unexpected objects can be upcycled and reused into crafts. Even seemingly tricky objects like old bike chains or tires can make for a fun craft time!
Closing: Reuse, Reuse, Reuse!
Next time you’re thinking about recycling a glass jar or grabbing a takeaway coffee cup, think twice! Small everyday changes like reusing that jar and remembering your KeepCup on the way to work help keep unwanted waste out of landfills.
As Abigail mentioned, accessibility to education on the issues and chipping away at them from the bottom up are the most effective ways to inform change on a macro level. So, what can you reuse today?
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- Abigail on LinkedIn
- KeepCup on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn
- Australia Bushfires: A Signal to Act” by Abigail Forsyth
- “Our Hopes and Ambitions for the Next Decade” by Abigail Forsyth
- B-Labs (B-Corps)
- 1% for the Planet
Sustainable Workplaces Manager & Writer
Jackie is the Sustainable Workplaces Manager at Urban Green Lab, a sustainability education nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s passionate about connecting people with actionable ways to make a positive impact on the environment. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Jackie worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jackie enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.