Sometimes ideas take time to find their moment.
Back in the late 1990s Abigail Forsyth and her brother Jamie ran an independent chain of speciality barista coffee shops in Melbourne, called Bluebag.
Dismayed by the volume of takeout plastic cups piling up as rubbish each day, Forsyth began searching for a reusable alternative to sell to her customers.
“The cups that were available were designed for US-style filter coffee,” she recently explained. “They were Thermos really and couldn’t fit under the group head on the coffee machines, which meant the baristas couldn’t dose them correctly.”
Rather than abandon the idea, in 2007 Forsyth decided to create her own reusable cups under the brand name KeepCup, despite being told by one designer she contacted that it was the “stupidest idea he’d ever heard.”
The first KeepCups were sold to coffee aficionados in Melbourne through their own shops, and at boutique markets as a niche product, but soon other cafés across Australia started to adopt the cups too, and a movement was born.
“The goal was always to kick start behaviour change, from discard to reuse – to deliver a positive global campaign that would change the status quo,” Forsyth explains.
Forsyth bought out her brother Jamie in 2009 (he went on to found the BeetBox lunchbox company) and she now heads up a company with 85 staff across offices in Melbourne, Los Angeles and London.
KeepCup’s commitment to the environment has seen the company go against the trend and choose sustainability over profits. It manufactures locally in its two biggest markets – Australia and the UK – rather than in China, despite the cost savings in choosing the latter.
But it seems to be working. KeepCup has now sold over 8m reusable cups. This has, the company predicts, prevented 12bn disposable cups from ending up in landfill.
Public awareness of the plastic waste problem is growing exponentially year on year. Wildlife documentary footage of oceans clogged with debris is the stuff of nightmares.
It looks likely that national governments will tax and perhaps eventually outlaw the use of disposable plastic cups.