A Disposable Dilemma: The Impact of Single-Use Packaging


January 14th, 2019


There’s no denying that Australian’s love a good cup of coffee.  In fact, every half hour of every day, we consume approximately 50,000 cups of it. While the coffee industry continues to grow and deliver a range of economic benefits to stakeholders around the world, its success remains marred by an issue that we as consumers are both the cause of, and answer to.

Annually, an estimated 1 billion single-use coffee cups are disposed of around Australia, and contrary to popular belief, the inclusion of polyurethane plastic in these cups makes them extremely difficult to compost or recycle. Most recycling facilities around Australia are currently unable to process them, and the amount of waste produced per capita continues to increase at a rate of 1% per annum. Each year as a nation, we produce 64 million tonnes of waste; that’s 2.7 tonnes for every individual.

These statistics are representative of a larger unsustainable waste management trend that we as a national community have fallen into. If we continue along this path, scientists predict that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2050. So, who exactly does the blame fall on, and what can we do to reverse these alarming trends?

Truth be told, we all need to stand up and take responsibility for our actions. For everyday brew enthusiasts, opt to bring a reusable cup when you visit your local barista. More and more cafes, including Ground Control, are joining the responsible cafes movement and offering patrons a discount on their beverage if they do so.

If you work in an office, pool reusable cups together so there’s always one available to grab and go. Every coffee, every day, helps make a big difference to your overall impact on the environment. If you do get caught without your own cup, always remember to separate and recycle the plastic lid on your disposable one, as it’s completely safe to do so.

As a business, it’s our responsibility to analyse every facet of our operation to determine where we can reduce our impact. At Ground Control, we purchase all food packaging from BioPak, who offer carbon neutral alternatives to traditional, disposable packaging options. All their products are plant based, rather than oil based, and are 100% commercially compostable.

Since introducing our BYO cup initiative, we’ve seen participation levels skyrocketing week-to-week. We’re currently on track to save over five thousand cups from processing facilities annually, with this projection likely to increase as the initiative gains momentum. This has also given us the opportunity to collaborate with other local and national businesses, including Pandanus Pod, who produce hand-made ceramic cups and mugs — you can check out their gorgeous collection here.

As a further step in the right direction, we’ve also begun transitioning away from using 1kg bags for commercial delivery, giving clients the option to instead receive their coffee in 5kg or 10kg food-grade stainless-steel drums. These drums are a safe, reusable alternative to single-use packaging, and the early response from clients has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s amazing to see so many of our partner cafes taking them on board and doing their part.

While it’s likely that in the coming years federal legislation will be introduced to put a ban on all single-use plastics and packaging, it’s up to all of us to begin doing what we can. Start a conversation with friends and family about the impact of single-use packaging, and let them know to always bring their own cup when they go out to grab a take away brew. Have a chat to your local cafe and see if they’ll commit to the BYO cup initiative. If we work together, we truly can have a big impact!