Green Cafes: Reducing Waste

John PearceNews

Green Coffee Cup

The concept of focusing on one town in an effort to have all the cafes become greener is certainly an exciting concept. It brings with it anticipation that after one town has achieved greatness then others can follow suit. Eventually, it could lead to whole states, whole countries…the whole planet!!! We need leaders to show us the way and the Green Cafes project was all about showing communities what can be achieved with some support, education and accountability.

Sadly the story is of one we’ve been following for some time now. The dreaded Coronavirus pandemic made this optimistic project seemingly impossible. Here’s the lowdown….


This project sought to work one-to-one with 21 cafes in Ocean Grove to reduce their environmental impacts and engage with their customers on waste reduction.

The Project Goals

• Support cafes to change their waste system to introduce organic waste collection for composting.

• Support cafes to avoid the use of disposable plastics such as plastic straws and takeaway cups and containers.

• Investigate options for cafes to recycle more plastics, glass, metals and paper/cardboard, including polystyrene and soft plastics.

• Work with cafes to offer a uniform discount to customers who bring their own reusable cup and promote this to the community to increase the use of BYO cups.

• Encourage cafes looking for energy efficiency options in their business to consider solar and link them with the Geelong Sustainability/GreenLight’s energy program offerings.

• Promote Ocean Grove to tourists and the community as a "BYO cup" town.

Green Cafe Keepcup
Project Barriers

The project faced many barriers, as a direct result of Covid 19. The pandemic impacted every element of the project. The first case of Coronavirus in Australia was in January 2020 though it was not until March that Victoria faced its first lockdown. With the Stage 4 restrictions, all cafes were limited to takeaway service only and some shut due to the lack of service available. Cafes were not allowed to accept reusable cups. (This protocol has continued for many cafes due to the fear of transmission.)

Restrictions progressively eased as the case rate declined and were completely lifted on 28 October 2020. With a total duration of 112 days, the Victorian lockdown was the longest continuous period of COVID-19 lockdown globally.

I started working on the project the following month in November 2020. This meant I was dealing with an industry so severely impacted by Covid that there was a genuine hesitation to discuss any changes…environmental or otherwise. The major concern for cafes was the fear of the unknown. The element of complete uncertainty. Whether a café can open, whether they can have customers dine in, whether they can have full capacity or limited. Then to make matters worse the cafes suffered snap lockdowns. This has happened 3 times in the period which I have been working on the project with no pre-warning. The latest lockdown began on Friday May 28th and lasted 7 days. There are still restrictions in place to limit customers that can dine in.

The Project RESULTs

Given the degree of difficulty I faced with cafes I chose to focus in on 2 main cafes that had a strong environmental focus and were already making steps towards being “greener.” One prominent café in Ocean Grove recorded a major reduction in landfill by adding in an organic waste collection stream. They went from 4 landfill bins to just 1 bin that is rarely full. They also have an extensive recycling system and since the Green Cafes project have now also added in a collection for soft plastics.

Another café introduced an organics waste stream and removed 1560 kg of organic waste that was previously going to landfill. This café is part of a chain with multiple sites which they are now looking to have an organics waste collection at all cafes. They too have added soft plastics to their recycling streams.

I have no doubt that with the start that the Green Cafes project has made in this less-than-ideal time it is only going to flourish now that cafes are beginning to see a path back to normality.

Jess Hobbs,
Green Cafes Project Officer