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Berkeley Pilots Reusable Cup Program as 25 Cent Paper Cup Fee Looms


Project partners in the Berkeley reusable cup program. Ecology Center photo.

As business owners and customers alike in Berkeley, California, prepare to grapple with a 25 cent fee required for all single-use cups, the city is launching a progressive reusable cup-share program.

The city is partnering with the Boulder, Colorado-based startup Vessel for the reusable cup service. Like a library-meets-bike-share model, the Vessel model gives customers at participating locations free access to a reusable, stainless steel thermal cup with a silicon lid. Users scan a QR code on the cup using the Vessel app. They can then return the vessel to any participating location within five days. If they don’t, the cost of the cup is automatically drawn from their account.

According to the Berkeley nonprofit and project partner Ecology Center, the program will be launching at 10 pilot sites throughout the city beginning this September. Currently, Caffe Strada and the Free Speech Movement Cafe in the Moffitt Library are confirmed as pilot sites. The Ecology Center said that additional pilot locations will likely be in the Telegraph Business District and in the UC Berkeley Campus area.

The cup-share program builds upon existing efforts by the city to reduce single-use food waste. The Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance, passed in January, will begin imposing a 25 cent fee for all paper or other single-use cups sold by coffee shops, cafes and other foodservice establishments in January 2020. At the same time, all businesses will be required to offer only compostable products for takeout or delivery packaging.

Beginning this past March, the ordinance limited the use of single-use straws, napkins, utensils and other items.