As the war on waste continues around Australia, many bakeries and cafes are jumping on board the initiative and selling branded reusable coffee cups or offering discounts to customers who bring their own. Baking Business chats to KeepCup co-founder and managing director Abigail Forsyth, who helped pioneer the movement.
Have you always been passionate about sustainability?
I’ve always been passionate about beauty, and the natural environment is it’s best representation. I’ve always loved nature, both gardens and wild places and I believe it’s vital to our quality of life. If sustainability is what protects that, then that’s the driver.
Do you remember the lightbulb moment when the idea for a reusable coffee cup came to you?
I wouldn’t say it was so much a lightbulb moment; it was an awakening. We use a disposable cup for three or four minutes, then discard it in the bin. And if the waste of that wasn’t enough, they weren’t recyclable either.
The call to action was when I was at home with my daughter who was a toddler. She would have a warm drink in a sippy cup, and I was having a coffee in a disposable cup morning and evening. I thought ‘Goodness, would I let my daughter drink out of a disposable cup?’ The answer was no. So, how was it all right for me? How was it all right for people to be discarding the things that they’re eating from?
How long did it take from the initial idea to holding the product in your hands?
From the initial idea, it took one year to test the concept and decide to act. Abigail Forsyth From engaging industrial designers, it took about 18 months to bring the product to market.
What was the initial reaction to keepcups when you began to present them to businesses?
Right from the get-go, there was a group of people who had also identified this problem and saw that KeepCup was a well-considered solution.
However, we were presented with arguments about whether washing a KeepCup was more or less harmful, and had a more significant impact than using disposables, refusal to fill based on perceived ‘food safety’ issues, all sorts of excuses were made about why this change in behavior wasn’t required.
All the products ever made are the waste and landfill of the future, so there is deep commercial interest in producing more stuff. When we consume a food or drink item in disposable packaging, consumers and taxpayers are asked to pay for the rubbish that we create to drive our business.
Did you ever anticipate KeepCups would become such a popular product? We heard the website crashed following the ABC’s war on waste programs.
Of course we anticipated KeepCup would become a popular product!
We are a campaign supported by our products. KeepCups are well designed, barista standard, so they meet the needs of the person working behind the coffee machine, they are delightful to drink from, made in Australia, and they last.
War on Waste did double the business overnight, but it resonated in part because companies like ours had been having this conversation for the past eight years. It also started a discussion in Australia about overconsumption, the way we are living as a national community. It’s incredibly exciting and has set people on a journey to really reduce the amount of waste they create and, in my view, probably enjoy living, just a little bit more through having less waste.
What have been some of your career highlights to date?
There have been lots of great moments. I began my career as a lawyer, and represented my dad when Abigail Forsyth sold his EDP business. Creating Bluebag cafes with my brother, which we grew to six stores in Melbourne CBD. There were some crazy days there, we had an incredibly popular product, there were queues out the door. It was exhilarating that people were enjoying something we created.
And then, of course, KeepCup, which I started with Jamie Forsyth—that’s been the journey of my life and it’s taken me all around the world. I’ve met some fantastic people. We’ve shaped behaviour, and we are a driver in that conversation around reducing waste and getting rid of disposable cups. It’s an enormous thrill and a privilege.