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Germany Experiments With Reusable To-Go Coffee Cups

A network of cafes in Hamburg hopes to cut down on the billions of disposable cups Germans throw out each year.

El Rojito/Refill It!

Hamburg is serious about cutting its caffeine-related waste: Earlier this year it banned environmentally disastrous coffee pods from government buildings, and now it has pioneered a system for reusable to-go coffee cups that don’t end up in the trash after just one short use.

It works like this: customers pay €1.50 (about $1.63) to obtain a black “Refill It!” cup made from biodegradable, plant-based lignin. They fill it up with the beverage of their choice at one of 11 cafes participating in the program. When it’s empty, they can fill it up again or return it to any shop in the network, where it gets rinsed — and where they get their money back. If you’re squeamish, there’s an option to buy your own fitted lid, so you don’t have to worry about where the rim of the shared mug has been.

The program, which launched earlier this month, is meant to reduce the 320,000 disposable coffee cups trashed every hour in Germany. Last year environmentalists proposed taxing disposable cups so more people would bring reusable ones, but that effort failed in part due to opposition from the German coffee lobby. “It claimed that if consumers refilled multi-use mugs then this would lead to ‘hygiene problems,’” reports DW. “Germs would accumulate around coffee dispensers, it said.”

El Rojito/Refill It!

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.