Food and beverages retailer Dr Juice will begin phasing out single-use cups from today, replacing them with reusable plastic cups made in Malta.

Customers will be able to buy a fresh new cup for €1 or purchase their drink in a pre-used (and pre-washed) cup for an additional 50 cents, while being able to take both home.

The company has not provided a firm timeline for how long it will take to fully switch over to the new cups but estimates it will take around six months.

Dr Juice says it is making the switch at no profit while going out of its way to reduce its environmental footprint.

The company says cups brought back to outlets will be washed, then sterilised in ‘sanitation cubes’ employing ultraviolet light to kill bacteria.The company says cups brought back to outlets will be washed, then sterilised in ‘sanitation cubes’ employing ultraviolet light to kill bacteria.

Speaking to Times of Malta in the run-up to the launch, the company’s founder, John Winfield said its packaging had been troubling him for years, especially when he noticed it littering the streets. 

“Over the last three to five years, the impact of the amount of packaging that we’re putting out started to weigh on me,” he said, adding the problem had only become worse following the COVID-19 pandemic and the delivery business “exploding”.

Winfield said that though the company’s cups were biodegradable, they were often not disposed of properly, with many ending up in landfill sites.

And, while the company had tried introducing stainless steel reusable cups in the past, he said their take-up had been slow, speculating the price tag of around €12 could have been a factor.

So, for this latest attempt, the company opted for plastic instead, with Winfield explaining the company “needed to create a cup cheap enough for customers to feel it’s not a huge leap to adopt this for every purchase”.

But he stressed the choice of material wasn’t just about cost; by using plastic and making them in Malta, he says the cups will be able to be recycled while reducing shipping.

“Imagine shipping 100 of these [cups] in a box – essentially, you’re shipping air... it’s a one-to-20 ratio if we make them in Malta; for every 20 containers we would usually have to import, we only need to bring in one of raw materials,” he said.

Winfield said the cups were being produced in Malta by local company MCL, which would also have the facility to recycle them. He said the manufacturer was offering to produce them “at cost” with Dr Juice selling them on to customers for the same.

MCL CEO Luke Satariano said the company had "created something unique," stressing the new cups were the first recyclable offerings on the market designed for multiple use and were easier to recycle due to only being made from one type of plastic.

Asked about the pre-washed cups available for 50 cents, the Dr Juice boss said the company would wash the cups in water above 65 degrees Celsius, “which kills any bacteria”, before screening them in a ‘UV [ultraviolet] sanitising cube’.

Describing the re-usable cups as “like a deposit scheme”, Winfield said customers will be reimbursed 50 cents when bringing cups back to outlets to be reused.

Greenwashing?  

But with reusable plastic being more energy-intensive to produce than paper alternatives, how does this factor into Dr Juice trying to reduce its environmental footprint?

“The great thing about this scheme is that because it's done locally, there's a lot less energy used in the process,” he said, pointing to reductions in fuel usage for transportation, something he said was a “huge part” of the energy associated with importing cups to Malta.

Winfield said the cups would be “used, reused, recycled and remade into something else,” all in Malta, calling the process a “circular economy” and noting it hadn’t been applied to beverage containers in the country before. 

And while he admitted there was an energy impact associated with the process, he stressed the material requirement of the cups was “the main thing we’re trying to push down”.

But how would Winfield respond to those who might argue the move could be seen as an example of greenwashing, while Dr Juice continues to burn fuel importing exotic fruits such as pineapples, coconuts and mangoes?

Winfield said the company used frozen fruit to avoid waste from spoilage but acknowledged that "operating this business model on an island like Malta, [means] importation of multiple goods is inevitable.”

However, he said the company aimed to increase their reliance on local suppliers, calling reducing its environmental footprint a “journey”.

Winfield said Dr Juice also plans to phase out single-use straws in the following months, replacing them with metal alternatives.

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