Ecology Center, Vessel announce partnership to kickstart use of reusable cups in Berkeley

Cheyenne Tex/Staff

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Update 7/29/2019: This article has been updated to include information from City Councilmember Sophie Hahn, a UC Berkeley student and Vessel’s website.

The Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization in Berkeley, recently announced the launch of Berkeley’s first reusable cup service in collaboration with Vessel, a reusable cup checkout service based in Colorado, in a press release.

Vessel provides free reusable and insulated cups to consumers through an app and allows customers to keep the cups for up to five days before returning them to any participating business. Failure to return a cup will result in customers being fined for the cup’s cost. Once implemented, Vessel will be available at at least 10 businesses on and around the UC Berkeley campus, and the program will run in Berkeley from September through spring 2020. According to the press release, the Ecology Center hopes to use the project to eliminate the 1.5 million cups those businesses dispose of every nine months.

Dagny Tucker, the founder of Vessel, said in the press release that the program is a fiscally viable, a “turn key solution for businesses that will catalyze the community with an accessible, superior cup experience.”

Sophie Hahn, the District 5 Berkeley City Council member, was the lead author of the Single Use Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance, a measure intended to reduce litter and waste on Berkeley’s streets and in parks and public places.

The partnership between Vessel and the Ecology Center follows the passage of the ordinance, which seeks to improve environmental sustainability and transition businesses to reusables. The ordinance, among other things, requires businesses to charge 25 cents for disposable cups and to ensure that all disposable foodware they offer is certified compostable. According to Hahn, the Vessel program serves as a precursor to the city’s campaign to move away from even more disposables, including utensils and to-go containers.

“This reuse pilot will allow us to explore new approaches to adapt reusables to current expectations for convenience, reduce waste and litter, and help our small businesses offer products that are attractive and convenient for customers,” Hahn said in the press release.

According to Vessel’s website, three campus cafés — Cafe Think, Free Speech Movement Café and Cafe Zeb — will also be launching the program. Campus graduate student Caralyn Gorman expressed that implementing Vessel on campus may be challenging because of the high volume of people, but that “it needs to happen.”

In addition to the Ecology Center, several key partners have assisted in funding the Vessel collaboration to incorporate reusable cups into Berkeley businesses. Organizations including the Plastic Solutions Fund and StopWaste have contributed funding to the program, according to the press release.

Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center, believes the pilot with Vessel is a “real solution” that will help reduce disposable plastics.

“We are so thrilled to kick off the reusable foodware revolution in Berkeley,” Bourque said in the press release. “Disposable foodware causes so many problems that we can not recycle or compost our way out of.”

Contact Meera Srinivasan at [email protected].