WATCH: The problem isn't plastic, but single-use – How 3 SA guys are using a German coffee cup initiative at home

2019-02-17 13:27

In recent years, there has been much publicity and discussion about the use of plastic, particularly straws, and the damaging effects it has on sustainability and the planet.

From numerous commissioned studies at universities to government interventions, plastic and straws have earned quite a negative reputation.

However, three South Africans, led by a certified coffee expert, say that while plastic is indeed bad, there are ways to work around it – in the coffee industry at least.

Charles Denison, who heads the Recup initiative in SA says that plastic is bad for the environment, but studies often did not adequately address usage and how it could be optimised.

READ: Scary statistic: 90.5% of plastic is not recycled

"Yes, plastic is bad for the planet, but how we use it while it's here will determine how we effectively conserve our planet," Denison told News24.

The Recup initiative aims to bring an end to single-use take-away coffee cups, which are often more harmful to the environment than straws.

Denison said his team began the project in Durban and they hope to take it to Cape Town and other parts of the country soon.

"In Recup, we tried to make it simple but affordable. For R20 you can get any Recup. It is a deposit system. When you are done with it, you can give it back for your R20 refund or keep it and take it to another participating café where you give them your dirty cup and they will give you a clean one back."

Denison said that before implementing Recup in SA, he had imported reusable cups.

"It was a great thing and a lot of people started buying cups and used them over and over, which was a great concept."

However, there were hiccups.  

"The complaint was that people would leave it in their cars or had to take it out and wash it and forget it. They would then have to come and use single disposable cups again."

Denison and his team then resolved to research more efficient and convenient ways to help consumers.


The solution came from Germany after Recup was created by two students who were supported by the German government. After a year and a half, the initiative was in around 2 000 cafés in the country.

"We thought this is a really great idea that has been tried and tested. We got in touch with them and were awarded the first country licence outside of Germany to do Recup. We started in December with a soft launch. By the end of January, 14 stores signed up with us and [we] have plans to sign up more people for the concept."

His team, which includes friend Ryan Moore and Geoff Noble, has extensively researched the impact that a single cup of coffee could have on the environment. The results are astounding.

The problem isn't plastic, it's single-use

According to Denison, just the lid of a take away coffee cup equates to a whopping eight straws. He said one lid and cup (250ml) is the same as 8 straws while one lid and cup (350ml) equals 10 straws.

"So while we are all having this big fight against straws, we should also be looking at take-away single-use coffee cups."

In Germany alone, 320 000 single-use coffee cups are thrown away in an hour.

WATCH: 'We saved our town from your Western plastic rubbish'

"In SA if we do 10% of that, it's a lot and enough to make us stand up and try to make a difference," he said.

Dension said that out of the top 20 offenders, South Africa was 11th worst in the world when it came to releasing plastic waste into the sea. This is higher than India and Brazil.

He said that 50% of consumer plastics are single-use.

"If we can start making a dent in the way we use plastic or at least try to bring change for sustainability, we should."

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