How to Have a Truly Sustainable Cup of Coffee

KeepCup sustainable reusable coffee cupYou drink coffee. Tea. When it’s at home, it’s organic, and when you’re out, you do your best. In so many ways, you live a green lifestyle. And yet, there’s one sticky point: the cup.

You know about bringing your own mug, but it’s just so…clumsy. And it’s not the right size for the machines your barista uses, so they have to use a different cup when making it, defeating the purpose of you bringing a mug.

Yes, their cups are made from recycled paper, but they’re coated to make them waterproof, heat resistant, etc. Which means they aren’t getting recycled a second time. Compostable? Biodegradable? Possibly, but still, some materials had to be used to make that single use cup. Often more than twice the weight of the resulting cup. And for many, unless you have a professional grade facility at home, composting or biodegrading isn’t going to happen any time soon.

What to do? KeepCup has what may be just the thing:

Cups made from #5 propylene. Translation: It’s recyclable. It’s shape mimics that of barista standard sizes, making for easy integration with their system. Yes it stands out, but soon enough you’ll have others following your lead, so the band on the middle has all the standard coffee/tea configurations written on it, so you can mark it to be certain which is yours. And apparently they can be customized with a company’s name/logo on it.

KeepCup doesn’t need to be treated gently, it’s machine washable and microwaveable, lending itself to be used for soup, for instance. They claim it’s unbreakable, a distinct advantage over the ceramic mug you may have been bringing from home, getting chipped and possibly broken in transport.

In a sustainable design touch others may not have thought of, The lid, seal, and cup band are all the same size, no matter what size KeepCup you get. This I imagine saves on energy use at the factory, as less lines of production are needed to make the KeepCup components.

All in all, one small step that, done en masse, could have a significant impact. My only qualm with this, being in the US, is the distance it would have to be shipped from it’s Australian point of creation. I’m betting this will find domestic producers soon enough though.

Readers: What other smartly designed products are you finding out there that address everyday activities?

About the Author

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media. Who he has and wants to work with includes consumer, media, clean tech, NGOs, social ventures, and museums. For more on GreenSmith Consulting, see He also writes for Triple Pundit
  • Any idea if this thing is brandable? It would make a great green promo item.

  • Yes: “The bands can be branded with a corporate logo or slogan.”

  • Ted Wills

    Am I the only one fed up with these personal green strategies founded on the notion of just “buying more stuff” rather than reusing? Why is it that everyone wants us to consume our way to a better environment?

    One way to be sure to stay clear of all those product peddlers in green clothing out there?: buy a used cup down at the Salvation Army, pick one out of your cupboard, anything besides encouraging more consumption of new materials and production of manufacturing waste.

  • I’d be inclined to agree with you Ted, were it not for all the contexts mentioned that make carrying a ceramic (or otherwise) mug from your cupboard an issue for many. We shouldn’t expect everybody to be as dark green as you, and creating something that will actually see long term use vs a brief, aborted attempt or not even starting in the first place, is something I can get behind.

  • I love these. I want one.

  • rod deakon

    I agree that we can’t consume our way out of this – just have your coffee in a mug, at home or at work and wash your mug. Keepcup, great money making idea but your still making this stuff out of oil based plastics – what releases carbon ? Its the burning of fosil fuels.

    I wish all of these money hungry people would just focus on using less and consuming less.

  • Rick

    Re: Rod’s above comment. The cynicism is unwarranted and unfair. Just because people are trying to make a difference at a consumer level does not make them ‘money hungry’. Changing people’s habits is the hard part, and good luck getting everybody to start carrying around a dorky ceramic mug. Reality check: it won’t happen. Idealism is good and necessary; but it must be tempered sometimes if real — and permanent — changes are to be made.
    Instead of just slagging it and the people who created it off, why don’t you get behind an idea that has real potential to change our enviro habits for the better?

  • Does anyone know a direct phone number for KeepCup as their website is not working?


  • MaryAnn

    One misstatement in this post is that baristas will use a separate cup to make your drink when you bring in your own cup. I’ve worked in coffee for 10+ years. I’ve never seen anyone use a disposable cup to make a drink for someone who has their own cup. Most personal cups will fit in the machines just fine, and for those that don’t, we use shot glasses that we use for many drinks for a myriad of reasons. They stay there on the bar and are reused throughout the day. I really hate to see people exaggerate “problems” to push a product. There are so many greener options than buying this specific cup, which is really what this article is pushing.