Mercury Bay Takes a Stand: Reducing Plastic Waste One Cup at a Time
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Mercury Bay Takes a Stand: Reducing Plastic Waste One Cup at a Time

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Woman holding reusable cups

New Zealanders use over 295 million single-use cups every year, with around 250,000 used in Mercury Bay alone. Enough to stretch from Whitianga to Tairua! 

Now there is a move in Mercury Bay to add our name to the list of communities saying ‘No’ to the SUC (Single Use Cup). Catch the team from Wāhi Tukurua (Mercury Bay Resource Recovery Centre Trust) at the Whitianga Market on King’s Birthday weekend to learn more.


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Putting an end to the single use cup?

With all the bad news about plastic pollution - overflowing landfills and the effects on nature, we are often left feeling helpless to make a change. 

The problems -polluted oceans, micro-plastics in marine-life, birds choking on plastic packaging – seem overwhelming and irreversible. 

But thanks to the waste minimising team at Wāhi Tukurua there is something we can do – one small change that will make an enormous difference. We can put an end to the single-use takeaway cup.

Plastic lined polluters

‘Oh, but aren’t they are recyclable?’ you say – ‘they break down ... biodegradable ...compostable!’.

In most cases, this is not so. 

These plastic-lined polluters have been deceiving people to think they are a harmless cardboard container but in fact ...  think about it... without the plastic lining the liquid would leak out.

The ones which claim to be compostable largely require an industrial composter to do the job and this also requires a specific collection system to prevent the compostable cups from simply ending up in the general waste. And no - there are no fairies in the rubbish bin outside your local café or dairy who will sort these for you to prevent them going to landfill. 

According to the WasteMINZ website there are only eight industrial composters in New Zealand, (there is none in the Thames Coromandel district). 

Even if your home or work place has a meticulous waste sorter, that person would need to independently deliver the cups to one of these facilities. 

Cleaning up Mercury Bay cup by cup

Why take the risk of your cup ending up in landfill when the solutions are simple and most definitely achievable? Others have done it and so can we.

As of October 2023, the SUC has been completely banned on Aotea/Great Barrier Island.

Now, if you want a takeaway hot drink on Aotea, you have three options: Take your own keep cup, use a mug from participating cafe mug libraries or pay for a “borrow” cup which can then be returned to any outlet for a refund.

These borrow cup schemes are also being used in Wanaka which is well on the way to phasing out the throw-away options.
In Mercury Bay, the waste minimising team from Wāhi Tukurua is working with cafes and business owners to help we consumers clean up our act.

Wāhi Tukura spokesperson Tiffany Reed says the businesses have been frustrated by the customers who don’t seem to realise the waste issue caused by the throw-away cups and are delighted to have some options to help people move to a cleaner option.

Tiffany says The Chunky Cup loan system is one of those options.

“Chunky Cups is a not-for profit organisation whose sole purpose is to reduce cups going to landfill. They promote a loan scheme whereby a customer pays $10 for a double lined stainless-steel cup (no burnt fingers) and then can keep it to reuse or return it at any participating business outlet for a full refund. If they have a used cup from a coffee in one café, they can swap it for a clean one in the next café.”

Tiffany Reed - Wāhi Tukura spokesperson

“The idea is for the cup system to be cashflow neutral to the business owner but they should be better off cashflow wise because they don’t have to pay for the throw away cups.”

Tiffany says the people at Chunky Cups encourage cafes to make a commitment to reusable cups and make a time plan around retraining themselves, their staff and the customers to think differently about how they do things.

Local Cafés taking up the challenge!

In Mercury Bay progress is already being made.

Colenso Café on SH25 is on track to phase SUCs out completely saying they will not be buying any more once the current supply runs out. Instead, they encourage customers to sit and enjoy their hot drink in house, bring their own cup or use the Chunky Cup system.

Nook Grocer + Refill in Whitianga has been encouraging the use of keep-cups since it opened and also offers Chunky and other loan cups.

Hula Café offers loan cups and other businesses are also starting to get behind the initiative.

‘Cafes told us they had been trying to improve things but that people were so attached to their convenience. ‘

‘All café owners we are asking say there is a problem but they are worried about making a move on their own – that is why we need a united front.’

Now the trash-busting team needs helpers to spread the word. Wāhi Tukurua are looking for volunteers to act as ambassadors, meeting with business owners and supporting them to make the necessary changes.

Tiffany hopes people can see how important it is to protect the Mercury Bay environment which many businesses rely on to attract visitors.

“We shifted with the plastic bags - a lot of people complained back then when they were phased out but now it is second nature to take your own bag. This will be the same.  It’s so easy to carry a keep-cup with you - if you just think ahead.”

Tiffany Reed - Wāhi Tukura spokesperson

‘We all need to think outside of what is convenient and try a bit harder,” says Tiffany. “We live in a beautiful place and we need to keep it that way.”

Talk SUC Free at the Whiti Citi Market

The Wāhi Tukurua team will be at the Whiti Citi Market in Memorial Park this King's Birthday weekend. Come along and have a chat and grab yourself a reusable cup at the same time! There's more details on the All About Whitianga events page.

If you are interested in becoming a Café Ambassador, you can view the job description here.

Related Links

Mercury Bay Resource Recovery Centre Trust

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