Coffee is good. Coffee waste is not. Every time we indulge in a cup of to-go-Joe from our favorite local cafe, we also inevitably engage in the unsavory behavior of throwing out its paper cup after taking the last savory sip. You don’t have to do the math to know there are a lot of coffee cups piling up in landfills around the world—two and a half billion per year in the United Kingdom alone.
And while it might appease you to think of most single-use coffee receptacles as recyclable—think again. Many paper cups are in fact lined with polyethylene, which makes them entirely un-recyclable. Bleak news, to be sure. Thankfully, as time goes on, more and more coffee consumers are taking note of the consequences of their takeaway habit. Perhaps more importantly, coffee shops are too—and doing something about it.
Los Angeles’s Bar Nine founder Zayde Naquib is trying to move his company toward a greener business model. At the beginning of the year, Bar Nine implemented a “Glass Jar Takeaway Program” as a step towards making a positive environmental change to traditional to-go culture. By serving all to-go orders in screw-top glass jars, and offering 25 cents off drinks if the glass is brought back—or if a patron brings her own reusable cup—sustainability is incentivized. “The dream is to see a 100-percent return rate on our glass takeaway program,” Naquib says. He sat down with Sprudge to talk in greater detail about sustainability at Bar Nine.
How long have you been thinking about sustainability and coffee? Is it something you’ve noticed right from the start of your coffee career, or was there a lightbulb moment?
The very first job in coffee I had was at a little place in Hermosa called Planet Earth Eco Cafe. While no longer in operation, it was a great place to be a part of, and eco-friendly practices were big there. I am personally driven by a desire to do good through the work I do, so in creating Bar Nine, that had to be a huge element for us and built into our values from day one.
What made you decide to fully adopt a glass takeaway program?
Giving credit where it’s due, the first people in LA that tried a glass takeaway program in coffee was G&B, who for a time implemented glass-only while they were popped up at Sqirl. I loved the approach, it definitely felt like the logical next step in environmentally friendly practices in coffee. When we were putting the shop together, I definitely wanted to do glass as an option with perhaps a compostable cup as default. Ultimately though, we felt that if glass was just an option, it wouldn’t see widespread adoption by our clientele. There’s a Wayne Gretzky quote that you ‘skate to where the puck is going.’ That was our feeling with the takeaway cup. Not everyone got it right away, but more and more there’s been a push with consumers to pursue reusable options, from tote bags to deposits on milk bottles. Some of that has been through legislation, [some has] been through businesses making change.
Do you see other cafes following a similar model, or perhaps doing their own part in keeping a sustainable program in other ways?
I certainly hope more shops start thinking about their impact from an environmental standpoint. A simple reality is that coffee shops around the world are responsible for [billions of] paper cups thrown away yearly. That alone is crazy. But there are so many other areas where we can all improve as an industry, from water waste with RO systems to where we get our electricity from to what we’re packaging to-go food items in.
How has the community been responding to the change?
People have been really excited about the change. I think it communicates clearly where our values are, and ultimately it’s about taking care of each other and the world around us through our actions as a business.
Now that Bar Nine is partially solar-powered and has a glass takeaway program, do you have other future plans of expanding your mission to create a sustainable coffee bar?
We are making some changes to our packaging currently, moving to a gorgeous white on white kraft bag for our retail and wholesale purposes. The kraft will break down easier and with that, we are using an alcohol-based ink stamp in place of stickers for each of our coffees, which will reduce paper waste by a lot. We want to tackle water waste next, and continue to build from there. Our internal mantra is ‘push coffee forward.’ Sustainability in our business is one way we want to keep doing just that.