Coffee shops that reward customers with reusable cups advised to refuse dirty ones

Coffee chains in Ireland that accept reusable coffee cups in exchange for perks for its customers have been advised to clarify what cups they accept, and to refuse dirty cups due to the possible food health and safety implications.

Currently, Ireland is working towards reducing emissions and reaching sustainability targets before 2020 in order to avoid an annual €75 million fine from the EU - writes

Politicians have also been exploring various options to encourage the public to recycle; a 10c payment per plastic bottle recycled , to mention one.

Environmental scientist and broadcaster Dr Tara Shine said last week that if large coffee chains started offering 20c discounts to customers who use reusable cups, it would pave the way for smaller coffee shops to do the same.

And if customers began using reusable cups each time they bought a coffee, instead of buying and binning plastic ones, it would be another step towards sustainability.

“We learned a lot from the plastic bag tax,” Dr Shrine said.

“At the time, people questioned if it would work or if it would have an impact. It worked. Now, we all carry a reusable shopping bag with us or keep them in the boot of our cars. Small economic penalties work.”

What’s on offer

Already, Ireland’s main coffee chains are offering their customers incentives to bring in their own cups – Caffé Nero, Insomnia and Starbucks are among them.

A spokesperson for Caffé Nero said: ”We offer a double stamp on our loyalty cards for those customers who bring their reusable cup into store.”

Insomnia said it encourages customers to bring any reusable cup into its stores to save on disposable paper cups.

“With our Insomnia Treats programme, we offer 10 extra beans (points) to customers using any reusable cup. This equates to a 10c discount.”

A Starbucks spokesperson said: “We agree with Dr Shine’s recommendation to incentivise customers to carry their own cup or tumbler, and we have a longstanding 30c discount for all customers who help to save waste, by bringing their own reusable cups or tumblers.”

But though there seems to be universal support for the idea, the practical application can be a bit messy.

Karl Purdy is the owner and managing director of the small coffee chain Coffeeangel, and he says he’s been “beavering away” on implementing a similar promotional offer to the one that Dr Shrine suggested.

He’s aiming to bring in a policy this October, but before they do, Purdy says he’s been going through “the tedious technical stuff”.

We’ve been researching this globally, and there are a lot of people who want to get behind it, but we have to go through the tedious technical stuff and do it right.

Initially, he was concerned about the responsibility around the cup that customers bring in – if a customer falls ill after drinking coffee from their own reusable cup, who’s to blame?

So what are the rules?

In general, food businesses preparing and supplying food, to eat in or take away, are subject to the food hygiene regulations.

All utensils, crockery and cutlery, provided by the food business, that comes into contact with food must be cleaned and where necessary sanitised at regular intervals to prevent the possible contamination of food.

But there’s a slight exception in the case of the reusable cup scenario. According to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), “afood business that intends to introduce re-usable coffee/hot drink cupswould not be responsiblefor the cups themselves as this would be an issue for each customer”.


The food business would need to consider any hygiene risks to accepting reusable cups that are not in a hygienic condition from their customers, as this could affect the overall hygiene status within the business.

“Therefore, the risk involved with this practice would need to be assessed and considered as part of the food business’s food safety management system.”

So businesses might refuse to refill your reusable cup if it’s not clean enough to accept. The FSAI recommend outlining clearly what is clean and what is dirty in order to avoid unnecessary confusion between customers and coffee shops:

Food businesses may need to consider introducing a policy within their own business to consider what re-usable cups that they would accept and also to use this policy to ensure that customers are made aware that only cups that are clean and suitable condition will be accepted.

“Staff would need to ensure adequate hand washing where they are accepting cups from customers that may introduce contamination to the food business,” the FSAI said.

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