Cafes - you can use reusables during COVID-19!

Our global community has entered into uncertain times. In the context of small businesses throughout Victoria, we know that this is challenging and we want to see you come out stronger on the other side.


To ensure small businesses can bounce back, many of you have adapted to provide more takeaway and home delivery services - this is of course a necessity right now.


However this has led to a dramatic increase in the quantity of disposable items entering landfills and sadly, the natural environment. We all know that reusables are the best option to curb plastic pollution and waste, so you may be asking yourself...


Can reusables exist in a time of coronavirus? 



The answer is a definite ‘YES’!!


Over 125 scientists from 19 countries have signed a statement assuring retailers and consumers that reusables are safe during COVID-19. The statement emphasises that disposable products are not safer than reusables and that reusable systems can be utilised safely during the pandemic.


"Based on the best available science and guidance from public health professionals, it is clear that reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene".



What does the Victorian Government say?


The Victorian Government allows the use of reusable cups, containers and foodware during Covid-19. Government advice on this matter is to refer to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, which states that 'It is up to the business if they accept reusable cups. Businesses should have a policy around how they accept reusable cups and cleaning and sanitising arrangements when accepting them. Businesses are under no obligation to accept dirty cups. Personal and equipment hygiene must be maintained at all times'.


The fact is that viruses and bacteria can exist on both single-use and reusables alike. Normal dishwashing practices can remove the virus from reusables - the same cannot be said for single-use packaging, which usually cannot be washed.


With this in mind, here are some tips on how we can collectively reduce plastic waste through the use of reusables during this time.



Coffee Cups


Accept clean reusable cups - this can be done without the customer’s lid. If you’re unsure, you can wash the cup before using it, or utilise a barrier while handling it.


Do a contactless exchange! A safe option with no risk to customer or barista. The contactless process can also be applied to reusable cold cups such as jars or bottles for smoothies or juices. See below for how this is done.



Make use of ‘swap n go’ cup network schemes, where reusable takeaway cups are stored and sanitised in-house. They can be easily incorporated into your normal operation. Depending on the network, you may pay a fee for the service and charge a deposit and refund it when the item is returned. Or, like a library book, customers borrow the cup and return it, with the onus on them to return or they are charged by the network for the cost of the cup. Established cup networks include Returnr and Green Caffeen.



● Share far and wide! Let us know if you are accepting reusables and we’ll happily share with our community via our socials. Please also share via your own channels and tag #BYOcup. You can also download and display our new signage showing you accept reusable cups for takeaway coffees!



Takeaway Containers


Ready to go next level?

Permit customers to bring their own clean containers. Like coffee cups, these can be washed in house if you’d prefer. And just like a ‘contactless pour’ of coffee, it's also possible to safely implement a ‘contactless transfer’ of food into a customer’s reusable container. 


Offer a container take-back program - allow your regular customers to borrow a container and bring them back. This can be done on a deposit system. 


Implement an external container network scheme such as Returnr or Retub. These work on the same basis as the 'swap n go' cup systems.




Cutlery, bags & straws


Don't provide cutlery or straws unless specified by the customer - during lockdowns, food and beverages will be consumed at home where reusables are plentiful. If requested, have compostable wood utensils and paper straws. 


Encourage your regulars to BYO bag to pick up their takeaway. 

● If you deliver independently, don't provide disposable bags. Instead, drivers can load food into returnable bags or boxes, and at the home, ask the customer to remove the items. While this may seem tedious, think about how wasteful it is for a bag to be used for 5 minutes! Not to mention the extra cost for you.  


A final note


If choosing reusables - we recommend you let your customers know what you are doing to keep them safe - perhaps incorporating any relevant details on your takeaway menus, website etc. and encouraging BYO clean reusables.


We fully acknowledge the predicament you’re in, adapting day by day to an ever changing scenario. Whichever way you chose to fall on reusables vs compostables, it's an individual businesses decision.


Remember, there is also a wide range of 100% compostable takeaway products that can be utilised to service your needs. Refer to our companion guide on ordering compostable takeaway products for help on choosing the right ones for you.


Over the coming months, we will be working closely with venues and local community champions across the Peninsula to put reusables back on the menu. We’re here to support our local businesses ‘build back better’ in the most sustainable way -- in line with Government guidelines. 


Check in for updates and additional resources and we welcome you touching base any time.  We’re here to help you make the right decision and guide you through it!  


Please note: we don't benefit commercially from any brands or products we recommend.


On food safety


Food safety is governed by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Accepting reusable cups and containers from customers is allowable under the code, providing these are suitable for use, clean and not single-use. A cup or container return service (as outlined above) ensures compliance with food safety rules. If in doubt, please consult your local food safety authority.


Further information on Covid-19 regulations


For specific Victoria guidelines and requirements:

For general advice:


This post was written by The Boomerang Alliance as part of their Plastic Free Places program, and is used in collaboration with Waste Wise Peninsula. The information is simply to help you identify products and services. We don't benefit commercially from any brands or products we list.