Berkeley’s First Reusable Cup Service

From left: Martin Bourque and Erika Evearitt, executive director and development director at the Ecology Center, and Dagny Tucker, cofounder of Vessel.

An Old-Fashioned Solution with a Tech Twist

Tired of tossing disposable cups into the trash or just hoping they’ll be recycled? Join the reuse revolution, starting with reusable cups for your coffee, tea, juice, and water.

The Ecology Center is paving the way through a partnership with Vessel, a reusable cup service. Their pilot program launches in mid-September at several food businesses on the UC Berkeley campus and on Telegraph Avenue in South Berkeley.

Vessel offers reusable stainless-steel thermal cups with silicone lids for hot or cold drinks. To participate, users can simply check out a Vessel by scanning a QR code on the cup with their phone’s camera. After using the cup, it can be returned to any participating business. Dirty cups are picked up by Vessel on a bicycle pedicab, taken to a sanitizing/washing station, and returned to cafes and restaurants for use by other customers.

What does the service cost? Cups are free as long as they’re returned within five days. If not, the user is charged $15 to replace the cup. Restaurants and cafes pay Vessel for the service but also save money by spending less on disposable cups. Several Berkeley cafes have joined the pilot project, including Caffe Strada, Café Think, Café Zeb, Free Speech Movement Café, and Press Café. Vessel started in 2016 with alpha testing in parts of New York City and then launched in Boulder, Colorado, in November 2018. Participation quickly grew from two to eight vendors.

The partnership with Vessel follows Berkeley’s recent passage of legislation to reduce the use of disposable foodware. Authored by City Council member Sophie Hahn and Mayor Jesse Arreguin, the Single Use Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance had strong support from the Ecology Center and other environmental groups. Among its key features, starting in January 2020, businesses must charge a fee of 25 cents each for all disposable cups. In addition, all takeout foodware must be compostable by January 2020, and dine-in foodware must be reusable by mid-2020.

Vessel cofounder Dagny Tucker says that Vessel’s goal is to make reusability a reality for the community. “Berkeley is shining as a leader in this space, and we’re excited to support them in their efforts and inspire people with elegant and affordable solutions to make sustainability an easier everyday choice.”

—Rachel Trachten

Starting in mid-September, Vessel’s reusable cups for hot and cold beverages will be available in cafes on the UC Berkeley campus and Telegraph Avenue. Photos courtesy of the Ecology Center