A More Sustainable Cup Option for Alameda Cafés

Joyce Mercado -- Alameda cafés to begin offering reusable cups to fight environmental waste.
Joyce Mercado -- Alameda cafés to begin offering reusable cups to fight environmental waste.

A More Sustainable Cup Option for Alameda Cafés

The manufacture, shipping, and ultimate disposal of single-use food ware is a large environmental burden. More than 25 percent of the waste generated in California is single-use disposable food ware and packaging. Just counting cups, it is estimated that 120 billion single-use disposable cups are disposed of annually each year in the United States. Starbucks alone goes through 7 billion cups globally each year. So, what can be done about this issue?

The good news in Alameda is Bay Area-based OKAPI Reusables (OKAPI) is partnering with Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda (CASA) and the City of Alameda to introduce a sustainable choice to Alameda cafés serving drinks to-go. With OKAPI’s reusable cup network, Alamedans can get their favorite hot or cold drink in a reusable, returnable cup. Participating cafés are making it easy to reuse by creating a network from which to borrow and return OKAPI cups.

Four Alameda cafés are leading the way in offering this reusable alternative to their customers: Julie’s Coffee and Tea Garden (1223 Park St.), The Local (1333 Park St.), Coffee Cultures (1926 Park St.), and Wescafé (1518 Webster St). These cafés already support waste reduction in a variety of ways, including offering reusable ceramic cups for dining in and encouraging customers to bring their own cups, but often customers forget.

For many cafés, it is not uncommon that only a small fraction of to-go drinks (2 to 3 percent) are served in customer-bring-your-own cups, with disposable cups still being the overwhelming default. Borrowing an OKAPI cup solves when customers forget or didn’t plan. A clean cup is waiting for them at the café and can be returned within two weeks to any of the cafés in the network.

The City of Alameda has a successful program that helps small businesses switch from disposable to reusable food ware for dine-in through Clean Water Action’s Rethink Disposable program. Now, the city is partnering with OKAPI Reusables to address the take-out side of the problem by making it easier for cafés to offer reusable cup borrowing as a convenient alternative to single-use cups.

How OKAPI works for customers: To join the OKAPI network, customers first download the OKAPI Reusables mobile app. OKAPI does not require a subscription, just a one-time membership fee of $10.

Customers scan a QR code at the counter to borrow a cup at the café. As customers return the cups, they scan another QR code at the return bins available at each café. Customers can borrow up to two cups at a time and can keep the cups for up to two weeks.

A lost cup fee of $15 is charged if cups are out for more than a month. OKAPI cups are insulated stainless steel with silicone lids. OKAPI also offers glass cups specifically designed for smoothies, juices, and bubble tea.

How OKAPI works for cafés: For café owners, there is no upfront investment for reusable cups. OKAPI stocks cafés with the number of cups needed to keep up with demand. Cafés wash and sanitize the cups, following the same public health standards as for dine-in reusable dishware. Thanks to all the support from CASA, City of Alameda, ReThink Disposable, and StopWaste, local businesses are using OKAPI cups for free during the one-year pilot program.

To kick-start usage, OKAPI hosts a Free Coffee Day at each participating café for users who download the app and join. OKAPI is inviting coffee, smoothie, and bubble tea cafés across the island to join the network.

Learn more at https://www.okapi-reusables.com.


Joyce Mercado is a contributing writer with Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda. Emily Chueh is the Co-founder of OKAPI Reusables.