At the end of October, the people from the Ema cafe came with a big announcement: they decided to completely cancel disposable cups in all their establishments. On social networks, most people applauded this step, but some of them began to complain that they did not have space to carry reusable cups or thermoses with them, or that they simply did not want to carry them with them. “We probably won’t satisfy everyone, unfortunately that’s not possible in this model. This year alone, however, we gave customers 300,000 pieces of disposable cups and lids, which is a large amount of waste that we would like to save the surrounding bins from.” says Ema’s founder Kamil Skrbek.
Disposable tableware has been on the shelf for a long time. Plastic was partially banned in the Czech Republic more than a year ago, but there are also problems with cups that seem to look like paper, but are actually coated on the inside with an impermeable plastic layer, which makes it impossible to recycle them. In the case of bioplastics, which decompose under specific conditions, the problem is that composting plants do not want to process them. It often ends up in mixed waste anyway.
As a – for many radical – solution, it is offered not to use disposable cups. Which is a question that has been discussed for a long time in the Ema network, which today includes not only cafes, but also roasters and bakeries. “This topic came up for discussion for the second year, but it always faded away or we were afraid of it. But on our last visit to London in the spring of this year, we talked a lot about it with the folks at Monmouth Roastery, who did away with single-use cups last year. They appreciate it a lot now and we liked how they presented it all and that it actually works,” explains the head of Ema, Kamil Skrbek.
Photo: EMA espresso bar
There are currently three Ema cafes in Prague
At the same time, the people of Monmouth said that the beginning was quite painful, but after a year they are doing well without cups even in cafes in tourist-frequented places, such as Borough Market. This is an important insight for the Ema cafe at Masarykova nádraží. According to Kamil Skrbek, the relatively large Boston Tea Party coffee chain, which also operates businesses in tourist locations, has the same experience. Inspiration abroad thus moved the ice in the Czech Republic as well.
Emy’s boss adds that they would like to abandon disposable cups at the beginning of next year, when they have used up the supplies they have available. “We anticipate that in our primarily to-go sales it will be a problem in a way, but we’re going with it. Already, a large number of people come to us with their own cup, so we believe that we will teach others to do the same,“ explains.
If the guest does not want to have his coffee in porcelain on the spot, which according to Skrbek is still the best option, the baristas will offer him two variants of reserved cups: the REcup, which can be returned in other cafes, or the slightly more expensive returnable Ema cup. And on top of that, you can buy reusable cups or thermoses of various kinds on the spot. “Whoever does not choose from these options and requests coffee in a paper cup will unfortunately be refused.”
A unique step in the domestic scene of select cafes
People mostly reacted positively to the announcements on social networks, but heavy traffic will show how much the step in a more ecological direction is actually viable. Some people objected by saying that because of the change they would rather head to the competition, which in the case of Ema at Masarykova nádraží is located across the street. It is the recently opened cafe Loka from the portfolio of roasters connected to Jaroslav Tuček’s chain of Doubleshot cafes. He tells CzechCrunch that this is a bold step on Ema’s part, which he supports, but he is not considering it yet for his cafes.
“We have been dealing intensively with packaging management and its impact on the environment for several years, and frankly the results are quite dismal. Last year we experimentally switched to 100% biodegradable bags for our coffee beans, but people had nowhere to dispose of them except in their home composts, so it made no sense at all. We are thus back to recyclable plastic. Generally speaking, anything degradable does not make sense in our industry for the time being, as composting plants refuse to accept any packaging materials, so everything ends up in the mix, and thus to a large extent in the incinerator.” explains Tuček.
And he adds that, perhaps surprisingly for some, disposable coffee cups are used to a minimum in Doubleshot cafes. Ninety percent of customers drink their coffee on the spot, which is due to the concept of cafes. Even so, they introduced backed-up REkelimky to all operations for four years, but after a year only units of customers used it daily. In the future, they will try to promote more cups for sale.
In Ema, among other things, they will offer returnable REcups
A similar type of coffee company is the Miners company of Oldřich Valta and Egor Kolpakov. They have built a network of cafes focused on selected coffee and, like Ema and Doubleshot, have their own roastery. “We don’t like disposable cups in our network and we try to minimize their use by giving discounts to customers who bring their own cup. But our approach is not to become a ‘zero-waste nazi’. Rather, we are trying to positively motivate customers to choose a more ecological way of serving and consuming coffee,” says Kolpakov.
It is the willingness of the customers that is decisive in this case. Not everyone will be informed about the move by the cafes in advance, which mainly concerns tourists. So it depends on whether they want to have the progressive approach explained to them, or whether they leave with the fact that the rejection of disposable cups is too much ecological agitation for them.
“However, the burden of responsibility should not be solely on us, the operators of gastronomic establishments. Personally, it breaks my heart to see a customer who orders an espresso to take away in a cup and, of course, has already drunk it by the door and throws the cup in the trash five meters from the cafe. The taste experience of the drink is half as bad, and on top of that, another piece of unnecessary waste goes to the incinerator.” adds Jaroslav Tuček in this context.