Most cafes stopped accepting reusable cups during lockdown, claiming the ban was to protect patrons and staff. But with cafes now bustling, the once common KeepCup rarely makes an appearance.
Reusable cups were banned in the ACT during the first lockdown in April 2020, and shutdown number two in August this year saw most cafes reinstate the ban themselves.
Ona Coffee was an exception, with customers permitted to continue using their reusable cups during lockdown.
Director Sasa Sestic said while he could understand some people are hesitant handling reusable cups, the safety issue was never a huge concern for his staff.
"I personally don't see a difference between bringing in a KeepCup for takeaway and sitting down and using a ceramic cup," he said.
"They're both reusable, they're both being handled and they're both going in the dishwasher.
"I respect that come people don't feel comfortable with them now, and that's OK, but we're going to keep promoting them because zero waste when it comes to paper cups is crucial. It's part of what we value."
In early 2020, Ona Coffee launched a campaign to end the use of paper cups by 2021.
"Months later, COVID came, and we thought, 'Well this isn't going to work'. But that doesn't mean we should just quit," he said.
Mr Sestic said accepting reusable cups slowed down baristas at busy cafes, and some Canberra cafes could be dragging their feet on reintroducing them for reasons other than public safety.
"If you have a line of 30 coffees and you have 30 KeepCups, it is not as simple as getting your stack of paper cups and pen," he said.
"But we don't exist to just serve big numbers, we exist to serve delicious coffee and really to make a positive impact for the community."
KeepCup founder Abigail Forsyth was optimistic customers would lead a push for the return of sustainable solutions in cafes.
"From the very beginning it's always been driven by the customer," Ms Forsyth said.
"The customer coming in saying, 'Can you please refill this'? And if they turn around and walk out when you say, 'No', then you quickly change your view about whether you refill it or not."
After what she described as a very tough year for the Melbourne business, Ms Forsyth said things were starting to look up for the sustainability-focused start-up.
"I was walking to work today and I saw three people with a KeepCup on my way in, so they're coming back out of the cupboard again," she said.
Ms Forsyth said before the pandemic a lot of cafes reported 30 per cent of takeaway coffees were sold in reusable cups.
"It was really becoming a standard of behaviour, and in the dark days of the pandemic it feels like you're starting all over again. But I think there's still a community awareness.
"At KeepCup, we've been busy sort of sharpening the axe and I think cafes and roasters have done the same thing.
"They're thinking 'when we come out of this, what's our business going to look like? How are we going to do business in the future?'
"I think you'll see a lot of businesses come out with a greater commitment to sustainability and a greater commitment to reducing impact.
"One of the things I think we will all remember from the pandemic - despite its length - is just how quickly and comprehensively things can change. I'm optimistic it'll make us more demanding of swift action around climate."
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