Obstacles to Reducing Single-Use Cup Waste

Obstacles to Reducing Single-Use Cup Waste


In the Portland Metro Area, roughly 50 million disposable coffee cups are thrown away each year. This creates 3 million pounds (about 1360776 kg) of solid waste and 6,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. As a coffee company, we're guilty as charged – YIKES!


To address this issue, we pioneered a Zero Waste Program at our cafes back on Earth Day in April of 2019. The program features a 25-cent upcharge on all disposable to-go cups which encourages people to pause and consider their options. We encourage our customers to take a break and enjoy their coffee in a nice ceramic cup. We also offer a 25-cent discount to customers who bring their own reusable cups, and we have a 'little cup library' where customers can use or donate a cup of their choice.

Reducing Disposable Cup Use


The results from our Zero Waste program have been amazing! In 2019, the first year of implementation, over 22% of customers changed their behavior and saved the landfill from thousands of extra cups.

Nossa Familia Coffee's Single-use Cup Use before and after the pandemic.


The Covid Effect... While Covid might’ve helped clear the air of smog due to a decrease in travel and economic activity, it has not been good to the landfills which have had a huge increase in disposable to-go containers.

Effects of Covid increasing to go containers and waste

Like many businesses at the beginning of the pandemic, we closed indoor dining and only offered to-go service for our cafe customers due to health concerns. Our top priority was to ensure the safety and health of our customers and employees, and we made the difficult decision to temporarily discontinue the reusable cup program until we had a better understanding of how COVID-19 was spreading. From mid-March to October of 2020, we fulfilled to-go drink orders exclusively in disposable, single-use cups. This led to a significant increase in the waste our cafes were generating, and negated gains we had made in reducing cup waste prior to pausing the program.

As we moved forward into 2021, we revived our Zero Waste efforts by reinstating our 25-cent upcharge on single-use cups and offering a 25-cent discount for bringing in personal, reusable travel tumblers. We also brought back our Little Cup Library. Despite these efforts, we have only seen a 4% improvement compared to our baseline. This means we're currently generating 18% more cup waste than in our first year of our Zero Waste initiative - far more waste than we had anticipated given the promising results we'd seen back in 2019.

Our slow recovery highlights the need for us to actively explore new ways for Nossa Familia to encourage customers to embrace our Zero Waste program again.


  • Encouraging customers to bring their reusable cups by offering a 25-cent discount and making them aware of the 25-cent upcharge on disposable cups when they order.
  • Posting clear signage that encourages bringing in reusable cups for to-go orders.
  • Reminding our staff to ask customers if they have a reusable cup before providing a disposable one.
  • Offering customers the option to borrow a cup or mug from our Little Cup Library to avoid the 25-cent fee. 
  • Giving out free coffee to customers who bring in their reusable cups on "Free Drip Coffee Day" on Earth Day to promote our reusable cup program, encourage customers to bring their reusable cups to our cafes, and build awareness.

Reducing Single-use Cups Today


  • Take a break and enjoy your coffee in one of our ceramic mugs.
  • Bring your own reusable mug or thermos and save 25 cents on your order.
  • Borrow a cup or donate a reusable travel tumbler to our Little-Cup Library.
  • Spread the word!

Our Net Zero Progress Report (4/20/23)
Bringing Back a Charge for Disposable Cups at our Cafes (8/1/21)
Sustainability in the Cafe part 2 (3/23/19)
Sustainability in the Cafe part 1 (11/08/18)

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