A South Australian convenience chain has banned the use of reusable coffee cups across its stores due to “potential health risks”.
Major coffee retailer On the Run has decided to issue the ban on customers bringing in their own containers in over 135 stores across the state, despite being “interested in researching reusable cups for many years”.
OTR employees were given a document outlining the change, informing them they are not allowed to serve food or drink out of reusable containers.
“Using ‘keep cups’ or other food containers brought to site is a food safety risk; we cannot control contaminants such as bacteria, mould, viruses or foreign objects which may be present,” the company said in a memo to staff.
An OTR spokesperson told Yahoo News that while caring about the effects disposable cups have on the environment, the customers’ safety must come first.
“We care about this problem, so it was not easy to decide that our food-grade (but disposable) coffee cups were the only ones we feel sure about serving our coffee and tea in,” the spokesperson said.
“We have had many incidents of customers bringing in dirty, unhygienic, contaminated cups, more recently we had an incident where a customer brought a cup in that was contaminated with a heavy metal.
“We realised that there are other more common potential health risks in us serving coffee into cups that we can’t guarantee are clean and ready to use.”
In the wake of criticism over the company’s decision, the OTR spokesperson said they will look for a more environmentally friendly solution for the long term.
“It’s heartening that so many people feel strongly about this. We will continue investigating better solutions to a sustainable, high quality offer,” the spokesperson said.
Despite the change, SA Health said there are no regulations on reusable coffee cup usage.
The City of Adelaide has also partnered with CBD cafés within several suburbs to trial incentive payments in a bid to reduce the amount of waste generated by takeaway coffee cups.
Ban on reusable cups is shortsighted, says KeepCup founder
The co-founder of leading reusable cup brand KeepCup, Abigail Forsyth, told Yahoo7 News the decision from the chain was difficult to comprehend.
“I think its very shortsighted and out of step with consumer sentiment,” she said.
“Disposable cups are damaging to the environment because they’ve got that plastic lining, especially when you think of the number of disposable cups that are used. Some plastic packaging is required to keep food fresh but disposable cups are wholly unnecessary.”
Ms Forsyth also dismissed health concerns as a reason for banning reusable containers stating “there are no health risks with using a reusable cup.”
She also said despite the steps taken by the chain, she believes disposable cups will eventually disappear from existence.
Jon Dee, founder of advocacy group DoSomething told the ABC that the move was contradicting the work other stores were doing across the state.
“Other service stations and coffee shops have been going out of their way to encourage people to bring in their own reusable cups or they’re providing them with ceramic cups,” he said.
“On The Run really has made a major mistake and I think they’re underestimating how angry South Australians will be about this.”
Mr Dee also raised concern about OTR previously selling reusable containers to customers and questioned whether they would be reimbursed for their purchase.
According to Mr Dee, more than one billion disposable coffee cups end up as rubbish or in a landfill each year in Australia.