The Coast News Group
Drew Beal is chief environmental optimist of the nonprofit Social Ventures for Sustainability. Photo by Tony Cagala

Nonprofit seeks to reduce waste one cup at a time

REGION — Drew Beal was in Seattle last week, attending a national coffee conference. But he wasn’t there seeking out the best cup o’joe the Emerald City has to offer.

Instead, the San Diego resident with the title of chief environmental optimist for the nonprofit Social Ventures for Sustainability was looking to raise awareness and to enlist coffee drinkers everywhere to “kill the cup.”

The nonprofit, which Beal co-founded, is hosting its first-ever Kill the Cup Earth Day pledge, with the hopes of signing up 22,000 coffee drinkers pledging to change their habits from using the one-time use cups to using reusable ones.

“It’s been tough,” Beal said of trying to change people’s behaviors towards the disposable coffee cups. That’s because bringing a reusable cup to a coffee shop isn’t always on people’s minds, or is it part of their routines, he explained.

Last week, Beal had more than 700 coffee drinkers committed to the pledge. By the time he would be leaving Seattle and the time the nonprofit will be at the Balboa Park Earth Fair this weekend, he said he hopes to have more.

As an MBA student at UCSD two years ago, Beal first noticed the coffee cup problem.

He explained that Starbucks offers 10 cents off the price of a drink when customers bring in their own cups. Beal also noticed a sign in the stores asking customers to help save the environment by using reusable cups.

“But those had not resulted in any significant changes in the percentages of people that bring their own cup,” Beal said.

That was when Beal and the nonprofit began the Kill the Cup University Challenge, a four-week program on campuses around the country, which began at UCSD last fall. The idea was to change people’s behaviors towards the single-use cups by essentially “gamifying” the experience.

Students, Beal said, could upload “coffee selfies,” pictures showing themselves using reusable cups and, in turn, be rewarded with points, which they could use to enter into a weekly raffle for gift cards and other prizes.

The data started to show more students engaged in the program.

Less than 2 percent of Starbucks drinks are served in reusable cups, said Beal.

“It’s an overwhelming majority of the drinks served at coffee shops are in paper cups,” Beal said. In a 2014 Global Responsibility Report from Starbucks, reusable cups are a part of the company’s overall waste reduction strategy.

“For 30 years, we’ve rewarded customers with a discount when they bring in a personal tumbler. It is our goal to serve 5 percent of the beverages made in stores in tumblers and mugs brought in by our customers, and in 2014 our customers did that 47.6 million times, up from 46.9 million in 2013,” the report states.

Beal said he’s been in contact with Starbucks’ director of environmental initiatives about their kill the cup efforts..

Starbucks has said they will continue to look for ways to encourage their customers to make the switch to reusable cups.

The nonprofit is also working on developing a program for independent coffee stores, too.

To date, the Kill the Cup challenge has saved more than an estimated 15,400 cups from ending up in landfills, including 3,860 gallons of water and 1.93 tons of CO2 emissions that are associated with manufacturing processes, according to the nonprofit’s website.

The nonprofit monitors the successes by using two metrics: one is the reusable rate — what Beal explained was the percentage of total drinks that are served in reusable cups, and the other, by tracking the total number of drinks sold.

The main goal of the nonprofit is to reduce consumer waste, said Beal.

With that, they’re working with the San Diego Coffee Network on a Kill the Cup San Diego campaign, which Beal said is slated to take place the first 10 days in May.

What’s new about this campaign is that it will be open to anyone that downloads their app and uploads a coffee selfie for points to enter into raffles.