Photo courtesy of Vessel

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Mike Pomranz
November 15, 2018

Even if you’ve never used a bikeshare, you’re probably at least aware they exist. “Hey, look at that!” you may have exclaimed to yourself looking at a row of docked bicycles. “If I wasn’t so fearful of trying new things, maybe I could use those one day! But regardless of my apathy, that program sure seems good for the environment!” Well, if you live in Boulder, Colorado, you now have a chance to feel that exact same way about sharing reusable coffee mugs.

Vessel Works attempts to solve a real problem in a sensible way. The disposable cups given out at coffee chains are a burden to the environment: Pretty much everyone has come to accept that even if we’re slow to do anything about it. Meanwhile, reusable mugs exist but people don’t reliably use them because a lot of the time you’re grabbing a coffee on the go specifically because you are on the go and didn’t realize you were going to grab a coffee. Vessel wonders why can’t coffee shops offer a reusable mug that customers take with them and then drop off later? It’s not like people aren’t reusing dishware all the time when they are in a coffee shop; why not take that concept to-go as well?

Or as Vessel puts it on its website: “Check out your vessel at participating cafes. Enjoy your drink on-the-go. Drop your vessel to any kiosk or participating café.” All you need is the Vessel app, and one of their stainless steel mugs can be yours to temporarily use for free (assuming you return it within five days!).

Though the Vessel concept was initially developed and trialed in New York City, the official launch has happened in Boulder, where two coffee shops are current participating in the program. “Getting behavior change to happen is not an easy thing,” company founder Dagny Tucker told Fast Company. “If we look at a community that’s considered very sustainably-minded, i.e., Boulder, Colorado, you’ll find that in a survey of local cafes, less than 10 people are bringing their own cup every day.”

Though Tucker understands she’s fighting an uphill battle, she hopes people will see the benefits to avoiding so much waste, information the Vessel app tracks for you as you use it. “We’re attempting to disrupt the status quo of an entire industry, essentially,” she continued. “And we think that by giving the user immediate feedback on the positive impact they’re having by making a slight behavior change that we’re going to be able to see that turn into larger behavior changes.”

Tucker says her program can benefit coffee shops too: Vessel handles all the cleaning for the shops and, for independent shops, the cost is currently less than what they probably pay for disposable cups. (She admits getting the costs down for a huge brand like Starbucks would be far trickier.)

But is the whole thing really scalable to the point where it could put a dent in disposable cup waste? That’s obviously yet to be seen. Either way, feel free to pat yourself on the back for acknowledging just how helpful this could be for the environment whether you actually use it or not—just like those bikes you really plan on riding one day.

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