Thea van Unen, Enviu’s PR Specialist who has been actively involved in Mission Reuse, writes how the program is making her rethink her own personal choices, and the impact such a ‘mission’ is likely to have on our lives and the environment.
It is early morning on a rainy day. I’m catching the train to work, still a bit sleepy, and tempted to buy a cup of coffee on the way. Since working on our Mission Reuse program, I know that this moment — the ‘need’ for coffee — results in millions of coffee cups being thrown away in The Netherlands every single morning. To put a number to this, it is: 5 million coffee cups
It has become an unnecessary luxury that we have gotten so habituated to in the past decade.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg — a man-made iceberg of takeaway boxes, single-use diapers, single-use plastic packaging in supermarkets, and disposable cups at festivals.
The good news is, today, these plastics can easily be replaced with reusable alternatives. In fact, we have alternatives at our disposal. What is needed are policies and regulations, consumer awareness of reusables, and profitable business models for entrepreneurs.
Connecting awareness, lobbying, and business modeling
How can we build such an ecosystem to anchor reusable packaging in our society for good? Enter Natuur & Milieu, Recycling Netwerk Benelux, and Enviu. The three organizations decided to work together on Mission Reuse for a reason.
Enviu knows how to build successful companies out of innovative ideas that stimulate circularity.
Recycling Netwerk Benelux is a specialist in the field of lobby and legislation for more sustainable materials and models like reuse.
Natuur & Milieu works together with stakeholders, companies, and the government to create awareness for the reuse transition.
Together, we make reusables visible, accessible, and affordable for all via the transition program, Mission Reuse.
Our focus market is the Netherlands at the moment; but hey, if we can make it there, we can make it anywhere!
Surfing the wa[y]ve on single-use coffee cups
Last June, we teamed up with Plastic Soup Surfer to raise awareness for the millions of coffee cups that we throw away every morning. The Plastic Soup Surfer made a surfboard using discarded single-use coffee cups. He surfed 385 kilometers all the way from Brussels to Amsterdam. That is the exact distance you cover when you make a single line out of the five million cups that are discarded every day. In this case, the coffee cups were the symbol of the single-use society we have nowadays.
In Ghent, the Mission Reuse team met with European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, and in The Hague, State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management Vivianne Heijnen welcomed the team and publicly agreed to stop the usage of single-use coffee cups within the ministry. At several pitstops, the team was welcomed by local governments and business owners, all publicly announcing their commitment to moving towards a reusable system.
Why Mission Reuse is relevant today, and for the future
The sustained effort of our Mission Reuse team, and several other stakeholders, to make reusables the norm has yielded results. The Dutch government has said that by July 2023, restaurants, catering companies, and festivals cannot give customers single-use plastic cups and food packaging free of charge. They must offer reusable alternatives, including those that can be returned with a deposit, or another return system.
Several other countries such as the United Kingdom, India, China, and other European Union (EU) nations too, have banned single-use plastics.
Sure, banning single-use plastics is a positive step toward reducing plastic pollution. Sure, creating a reusable system is feasible, at least in theory.
However, it is potholed with logistical challenges. Mission Reuse has been piloting projects for a reusable ecosystem.
Currently, the team is piloting waste-free educational institutions, where students buy our partner’s reusable cups, scan the QR code on the lid using the free app, and return the coffee cups at certain returning points. Another partner then handles the logistics and washing of these cups at their washing facility.
The team is piloting this system to scale it, and make the transition away from single-use plastics easier. Through trial and error, we are laying down a nuanced framework that can be replicated in any country.
So, we work now, and party tomorrow, waste-free.
Why we continue to work together
The above campaigns exemplify the results of working together. Combining lobbying with business modeling, testing, and piloting solutions, helps to implement changes that work.
For consumers, it means these solutions still offer convenience. For business owners, it means they won’t lose income, they serve their clients better, and they influence laws and regulations to expedite the implementation of a new economy: one that serves people and the planet.
This article was published in Enviu Impact Magazine 2022.