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HuskeeSwap on combining sustainability, convenience, and hygiene

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HuskeeSwap combines sustainability with convenience, providing a reusable cup system that’s easy and hygienic for coffee shops and their customers.

Many governments, businesses, and people look at how they can “close the loop” on waste, but few embrace that idea quite like Huskee.

The Australian-based company saw how much waste is left over from coffee processing and the amount of single-use plastic exiting the café. With HuskeeCup, it kills two birds with one stone. 

“HuskeeCup is made with a unique biopolymer containing coffee husk, a waste product from the milling stage of coffee production,” explains Michael McFarlane, HuskeeSwap Operations Manager.

“When you pick a coffee cherry, dry it, and mill it, there’s a layer outside the seed which comes off. I liken it to the bit of popcorn that gets stuck in your teeth. It usually piles up on coffee farms and can become a pest or fire risk. Some can be integrated back as compost, however, it’s difficult in such high volumes, so we set out to repurpose that waste.”

But to Huskee, the HuskeeCup needs to be more than environmentally friendly to be sustainable. It also has to be viable for a café to use long term and at scale, an area where McFarlane says most reusable cup solutions struggle.

“When a barista in a café starts to receive a lot of reusables, they suddenly have to manage different sizes, shapes, lid configurations, and remembering whose is whose. It becomes tough to manage on a daily basis,” he says.

“Pre-COVID, you were getting cups that weren’t always clean and the barista had to step away from the machine to wash them, so hygiene was another issue.”

To overcome this, Huskee launched the HuskeeSwap program, allowing consumers to exchange their used HuskeeCups for a fresh one when ordering coffee at a participating café. A coffee shop just needs to carry a set of exchangeable HuskeeCups to take part in the program as well as retail cups so customers can join in too.

“The advantage of HuskeeSwap is streamlined inventory. When someone arrives at a café with a HuskeeCup, they just have to hand in their cup and lid, the café puts it aside to wash at a less busy time, and the customer gets one of the café’s float cups kept on top of the machine,” McFarlane says.

“The hygiene is exactly the same as you’d expect from dine-in cutlery. They’re washed, sanitised, and put through a commercial dishwasher onsite, so the barista just grabs a HuskeeCup as they would a single-use cup and off they go.”

This hygienic element has become increasingly important in light of many cafés turning away from reusable cups during the COVID-19 pandemic. McFarlane says several HuskeeSwap partner cafés have introduced additional steps for even greater assurance.

“There was not a lot of advice in the early days of COVID about what the right thing was to do, so understandably, a lot of cafés were suspending reusables,” he says.

“Even when reusables are clean, the customer has had to carry that cup into the café, so there’s a real risk for cross contamination, whereas HuskeeCups are sanitised on premises, so you get a far more hygienic cup.”

Many of these cafés have worked pre-ordering or order-ahead options into the HuskeeSwap program, something usually difficult when waiting for a customer to bring in their own cup.

Others have set up designated drop-off spots, with tubs or dishwasher trays for customers to return used HuskeeCups, so the barista or café worker can load them straight into the dishwasher with minimal contact. 

“It’s an interesting time for us in COVID. There was a downturn in reusables at the start of the year, which then picked up dramatically, especially in Australia [where case numbers are very low],” McFarlane says.

“Some cafés are still not ready to accept reusables, but others are, and many are appreciating the hygienic element of HuskeeSwap. We’ve seen a lot of cafés take part that were on the fence about joining, because they’re seeing the waste pile up and business owners are seeing the bill for all these single-use cups.”

Selling retail HuskeeCups also recoups the small operating costs of washing and rotating HuskeeCups, which McFarlane says makes HuskeeSwap cash positive when considering savings on single-use cups.

“We see well setup swap sites start with about 10 to 15 swaps a day, with some of our biggest sites in New South Wales growing up to 150 swaps,” McFarlane says.

Some cafés are also using the Australian Good Design Award winning cups for their sit-down orders too for even greater workflow and inventory management. The cups come in three sizes – six, eight, and 12 ounces – with each featuring the same recognisable ridged design. HuskeeSwap users can swap between these sizes as necessary.

“We didn’t want there to be a situation where a café has to say ‘no’ because the customer has the wrong size cup. All they have to do is hand in the cup and lid and they’ll get the size that matches their beverage,” McFarlane says.

The HuskeeSwap app features the location of every swap site across the globe. Recently, the app has launched two new features – Store and Borrow – providing customers with greater convenience and flexibility.

“If you’ve got a reusable cup with you that you don’t want to carry around, you can scan a QR code at the café and ‘store’ the cup with them and pick another one up the next time you order a coffee there,” McFarlane says.

If a customer has forgotten their HuskeeCup, they can ‘borrow’ another from the café. They have five days to return the cup before the price of the cup is charged to their account. 

“The main issue with reusable cups is we sometimes forget them. Borrow is there as a back-up plan, and not something you can use every day,” McFarlane says.

“It’s also there for those who are interested in HuskeeSwap but don’t want to commit to buying a cup. They can try HuskeeSwap for five days and as long as they’ve returned their final cup, they get their money back. Both features are all about trying to make reusables more convenient.”

Since its beginning as a Kickstarter campaign in 2017, Huskee has expanded from the coast of New South Wales to hundreds of HuskeeSwap sites across 22 countries. The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Hungary have joined Australia as some of its major markets.

Many of these countries, like Canada and Australia, have seen changing community and government perceptions around the use of single-use plastics, pushing cafés to find alternatives sooner rather than later. For others, HuskeeSwap has grown through word of mouth.

“We find if we have cafés that are fully behind and are passionate about HuskeeSwap, they are the ones that find the most success and the system organically grows from there,” McFarlane says.

“We partnered with one café in Budapest that was committed to reducing its waste and it really spread the word and got the movement going. Now, HuskeeSwap has become the ‘reusable of choice’ in Hungary.”

While the polypropylene material used alongside coffee husk to produce HuskeeCups make them durable, crack resistant, and dishwasher safe, nothing lasts forever. When a HuskeeCup reaches the end of its life, it can be returned to Huskee where it will find a new life under its HuskeeLoop initiative.

“If a café is using new cups and something old, stained, or damaged gets swapped in, it shouldn’t be the café’s responsibility to take care of it, so the system has to,” McFarlane says.

“We are just about to launch a new product, made in Sydney of entirely of pre-loved HuskeeCups, hopefully the first of many.”

For more information, visit huskee.co

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