Reusable cup program comes to Victoria, British Columbia

The Canadian city is the latest to rethink disposal culture and insist on something better.

Two women in Victoria, British Columbia, are sick of disposable coffee cups and have decided to take action to eliminate them from their beautiful coastal city. Nancy Prevost and Caroline Thibault founded the Nulla Project, which aims to eliminate the 13,000 single-use cups that are thrown away daily in the city.

The Nulla Project operates similarly to other reusable cup programs I’ve written about for TreeHugger, such as Vessel Works in Colorado and the Freiburg Cup in Germany. People pay a $5 deposit for a cup that will be accepted without question at participating coffee shops and restaurants. It can be swapped for a clean one, washed and reused by its owner, or returned at any time for a refund. The cups are good for up to 400 uses, which is the same lifespan as the hugely successful Freiburg cups.

Prevost and Thibault told Victoria News that they were motivated by all the waste they’d seen. Prevost said:

“Both of us never use single-use items, so if we forget our cups we just don’t buy anything. I used to be a server, and was just so tired of seeing so many single-use items going in the trash. So last Christmas Caroline and I started talking about how there must be a solution.”

In early 2019 they won an incubator project grant offered by Synergy Enterprises in partnership with Vancity and have spent the past year networking with local businesses to gain support for the project. So far four businesses are on board, and the cups are available for purchase at five places, including a zero waste store. Thibault told TreeHugger over email, “The response has been amazing with the first coffee shop being sold out after only 2 weeks. We are encouraging customers to keep the cups in circulation by bringing them back, swapping that or reusing them. “

The cups were sourced from a U.S. producer. They are plastic, which might seem questionable to some readers, but Prevost explains their choice: “We looked at a lot of options; ceramic can break, bamboo is a heat conductor, glass shatters, so for now plastic is still the best option. But, knowing that this can be used 400 times and recycled at the end makes it part of the circular economy.”

Getting local businesses on board is key to the success of a program like this. It means the difference between individual lifestyle changes and the kinds of broader societal changes we so desperately need. It eliminates doubt in the mind of the individual as to whether or not their cup will be accepted by a retailer, which is an important confidence-booster, and gives companies a reusable cup policy that they can fall back on in times of doubt. And doubt does arise – look at the recent debacle with Irish Rail. Much of the world still doesn’t know how to handle reusable cups!

So far, the Nulla Project (whose name means ‘zero’ in Latin and a slang version of ‘nothing’ in Italian) has several local partners, with plans to expand. The founders would also like to introduce a reusable food container program at some point, which is another smart idea.

The Canadian city is the latest to rethink disposal culture and insist on something better.

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