With single use plastic bags out of circulation, it seems like only a matter of time before disposable coffee cups become the next target on the road to environmental sustainability.
And with good reason.
Each year an estimated one billion single use coffee cups are sold in Australia and, while the plastic lids and the paper itself is recyclable, the cups have a plastic waterproof liner that cannot be recycled at a regular recycling facility, which means most coffee cups end up in landfill.
But there is hope for the environmentally conscious coffee drinker.
The creators of Sunshine Coast based company Pottery For The Planet have not only devoted themselves to increasing awareness of the impact of single use plastic cups, but they’ve come up with a viable alternative that is both practical and beautiful.
Pottery For The Planet’s Renton Bishopric and Clare Botfield have created a range of unique ceramic coffee cups, which are designed to encourage people to change their environmental footprint.
When Mr Bishopric and Ms Botfield began Pottery For The Planet in 2013, it was with the aim of raising money against a proposed coal port at Fitzroy River in Keppel Bay on the Capricorn Coast.
“We initially started it [Pottery For The Planet] as a project in opposition to a proposed coal port in the mouth of the Fitzroy River in Keppel Bay on the Capricorn Coast, and Pottery For The Planet was a fundraiser for that particular campaign to stop the coal port, which we won,” Mr Bishopric said.
“The campaign went on for three or four years and that was a sideline project to what I was already doing at the time.”
Mr Bishopric said his love of pottery stemmed from growing up around a pottery gallery his parents own in Central Queensland, north of Yeppoon.
“My folks are both potters, and they started their gallery in 1976 and it’s still running today,” he said.
“I grew up in a working pottery studio, but I took up pottery as a profession when I was 21.”
At the age of 21, Mr Bishopric started training as a production potter, which involved making bulk products with a quick turnover.
He said he had just returned from overseas and had looked with “fresh eyes” at the pottery that his parents were making.
“I realised that it was something that I would like to do and here we are 20 years later,” he said.
Mr Bishopric said in the early stages of his career he had primarily been making utilitarian household pottery, but said that changed drastically over the past few years as Pottery For The Planet directed its focus to reusable coffee cups.
“Clare had actually been saying to me for about three years that we should try making cups with lids and I sort of dismissed it saying ‘why would people want those?’”
“Then two years ago we thought we’d try making some for the Woodford Festival,” Mr Bishopric said.
“We had a stall at the festival and the cups went really well there,” he said.
Not long after gaining customer interest in their product at the Woodford Festival, the ABC ran a television series called War on Waste, which Mr Bishopric said he believed was a major factor in their growing success.
“The spotlight was shone on the huge issue that is the single use, disposable culture in the world, and Australia was primarily the focus of that program,” he said.
“That program was a tipping point when people realised that they needed to make changes, [that] it wasn’t good enough to use single use items anymore.”
Mr Bishopric and Ms Botfield are devoted environmentalists, and committing to improve their environmental footprint has become second nature.
“Clare is a passionate environmentalist, she’s absolutely committed to it,” Mr Bishopric said.
“I’ve had an upbringing where my folks have been total environmentalists, it just comes naturally to me,” he said.
“It’s natural for me to think about how we can minimise our footprint on the planet and it’s not something that I needed to retrain myself, but in saying that, I am constantly reassessing my behaviours, purchases and daily habits to see how I can continue to reduce my footprint.
“It’s going to take our generation to make a difference… unless we turn it around, then the next generation is going to pay the consequences.”
Mr Bishopric and Ms Botfield are doing their bit in removing single use products from circulation through Pottery For The Planet, and have already made a significant difference.
“At the moment we are focused on coffee cups,” Mr Bishopric said.
“We did a rough calculation recently and we found that we’ve saved around 10 to 15 million disposable coffee cups since we’ve started making reusable cups,” he said.
“We just started making cups, we didn’t plan to have a business grow rapidly or achieve anything in particular, we just made some cups to solve a problem and it’s been supported so well that we’ve kept going.”
The couple are also helping other companies to reduce waste by supplying their cups to a range of stores in the hospitality industry.
“We’re also trying to solve environmental problems that other companies, such as cafes and restaurants are having, like not being able to source products to use in their business that will allow them to reduce single use products as well,” Mr Bishopric said.
“The takeaway culture in the hospitality industry has a big impact,” he said.
“It’s because it’s convenient, people are busy, they’re at work, [and] it’s the easy option.”
“The disposable culture has gotten huge because it’s so easy.”
Pottery For The Planet has experienced great company growth over the past few years, and Mr Bishopric a lot of that could be put down to positive word of mouth and social media.
“Social media has been hugely responsible for what’s happening with our growth,” he said.
“We use social media every day, we have someone dedicated within our business to run our social media platforms because it’s so important to us.”
“Other things that have helped with growth is word of mouth and committed people.”
While social media has allowed Pottery For The Planet to progress, it has also had its downfalls.
“Social media is a blessing and a curse, it gives you the capacity to grow your business extremely fast, but it also gives the ability for your competitors to watch exactly what you’re doing and be right behind you copying what you’re doing,” Mr Bishopric said.
“We encourage all artists to pursue their dreams, that’s no problem at all, but we have had issues with copyright, and we do have copyright and brand protection because we have had people who have copied us exactly and that’s not okay,” he said.
As well as copyright encounters, Mr Bishopric said working with natural materials was a daily creative challenge for Pottery For The Planet.
“Nothing ever goes 100 per cent according to plan, and every time we open the kiln there are surprises,” he said.
“We end up with lots of seconds in what we’re doing in terms of the lids because the measurements have to be exact and the challenge for us with what we’re doing is to make the cups fit the lids, so we’re working with shrinkage rates of clay.”
“With the cups that don’t go to plan, we sell them without lids.”
“We have a sale every now and then, and people love them for their homes.”
He said Pottery For The Planet also dealt with a lot of breakages as they work with fragile materials.
“Logistically for us, because we’re shipping all over Australia, there are challenges with packaging, we get a lot of breakages, so we just have to deal with that and do our best,” Mr Bishopric said.
He said although Pottery For The Planet sometimes faced hurdles, they did not allow difficulties to get in the way of learning and developing.
“We’re not trying to grow or expand in any real sense, we’re just trying to refine our systems, minimise seconds and production processes, and put out the highest quality product that we can,” Mr Bishopric said.
“Our belief and how a successful business model runs are to maintain quality and integrity in your work.”
Although Pottery For The Planet is currently focused on reusable coffee cups, Mr Bishopric said they hoped to add more reusable products to their line.
“All of us at Pottery For The Planet still like to make artworks when time allows,” he said.
“We are always refining, but we are working on some new products, we’re expanding back into tableware, so we’re trying to increase our production capacities so that when we’re firing the kiln it’s not just full of cups, it’s full of plates and bowls and other things as well.”
“Business is business, but it’s great when a business can work alongside a cause and work to achieve great outcomes.”
Mr Bishopric said creating more reusable products and maintaining the quality of the coffee cups would allow Pottery For The Planet to continue to spread awareness about sustainability and reducing single use products.
“We just encourage everyone that the biggest way you can create environmental change is to take the steps yourself, lead by example and then the next step is to encourage those around you to take up the challenge as well,” he said.
“If everyone buys reusable products then the footprint spreads and changes will happen fast.”
For more information about Pottery For The Planet, visit their website.