SINGAPORE: Paper disposable cups are not a guilt-free alternative to Styrofoam after all, as a recent episode of Trash Trail showed – but what would it take to make people bring their own tumblers along to cafes and coffee shops?
A Channel NewsAsia survey showed that nearly half of 1,000 respondents here could be convinced to use their own tumblers if shops offer at least a 10-per-cent discount off their drink.
So to incentivise Singaporeans to mind their eco-footprint, 11 cafes and restaurants have tied up with the documentary Trash Trail to offer drink discounts of 10 per cent, S$0.50 or S$1 if customers bring their own tumblers.
The offer is good from now through March, but most of the business owners said they would consider continuing the BYO discounts, particularly if the response is good.
Highlander Coffee’s owner Phil Ho joined the initiative after realising the sheer amount of waste generated from disposable coffee cups – including paper cups, which in Singapore, mostly do not get recycled, contrary to common assumption.
“I felt bad and decided that the paper thing is an issue,” said Mr Ho said. Paper cups also consume more resources in their manufacture than foam cups do.
WATCH: The facts about disposable cups (2:15)
The other participating businesses are A.R.C Coffee, Sarnies, The Assembly Ground, Strangers' Reunion, Symmetry, Xiao Ya Tou, Curious Palette, Yellow Cup Coffee, Dapper Coffee, and Tiong Hoe Speciality Coffee.
Coffee chains like Starbucks and Coffee Bean have already been offering 50 cents off drinks when customers bring their own containers.
Said Fadilah Amir Hamzah: “If we’re really serious about being zero waste… then this should be done nationwide, endorsed by the state and made into policy. An ‘opt in’ method by well-meaning retailers will not have the impact we desire.”
Andrew Ong too felt the Government should urge more local enterprises to support these eco-initiatives.
Many Facebook respondents decided that offering a discount was better than charging customers for using disposable ware. At least one, however, argued that peer pressure would work better than monetary solutions.
“I was influenced by friends around me who brought their own lunch boxes to take away food and refusing to purchase food from stalls using disposables,” commented Ms Elaine Chong.
“Everyone has a part to play, and it’s not just the stall-holders’ responsibility.”
A few commentators suggested other ideas, such as getting retailers to trade in disposable ware for biodegradable takeaway cups, giving perk points, or renting out tumblers for a deposit.
At the root of it? Tackle the "bin it" culture, said Yanni Yoong.
Just how sustainable will the BYO initiative be in convincing Singaporeans to curb their use of disposable ware?
It turns out that Trash Trail’s collaboration will not be the last of its kind. Zero Waste Singapore, a non-governmental organisation, said in a comment on ChannelNewsAsia’s Facebook page that it would launch a similar programme with more local retailers by mid-2017.
Besides, there’s an added incentive for retailers to join the BYO movement.
Ms Rachel Tang, the marketing manager of Symmetry and Xiao Ya Tou, said that apart from being environmentally friendly, initiatives like this “may also be able to help the business defray a little bit of expenses spent on disposable packaging or cleaning services”.
Watch the Trash Trailepisode on disposable cups here.New episodes air Mondays at 8pm SG/HK.
The series is part of the CNA Signatures belt showcasing innovative programmes.