A life in plastic doesn’t have to be all bad. Just ask Kiwi company Globelet, whose recycled plastic cups have brought the reusable revolution to some of New Zealand’s biggest summer events.
‘Tis the season of live music and sports — Splore, Womad, T20 cricket to name a few — but once the bands clear out and the crowds head home, what’s left is an unsightly scourge of single-use plastic. Plastic cups, plastic plates, plastic forks and spoons, all mindlessly discarded after serving up the day’s food and beverages. It’s become a common sight, really, and serves as the ugly aftermath of our frivolous, summer fun.
While innovative solutions like plant-based packaging have gone a long way to promote more sustainable practices, the prevalence of single-use plastic remains rampant and ubiquitous, particularly when it comes to plastic cups. But a different kind of plastic cup has emerged on the events scene in recent years — one that’s designed not to be chugged and dumped at will, but to be used again and again, drink after drink.
Globelet, the New Zealand-based company behind this innovative solution, came about when its founder, Ryan Everton, was studying law at Otago University. He was at a rugby game in Dunedin Stadium when he noticed the venue was littered with single-use cups.
“I got the head of the design school to help me design a product, found a plastic guru as a mentor, and then designed the first cup,” he says. “Laurie Mains (ex-All Blacks coach) sponsored [the cups] with GJ Gardner and we put them into the stadium in Dunedin. The rest is history.”
After conquering Dunedin Stadium, Globelet hit the festival circuit, supplying specially branded products for events like Splore, Rhythm and Vines, Auckland City Limits, Womad and Wanderlust. At Splore 2016 which had approximately 7,000 people attend over three days, 15,000 Globelet cups displaced over 50,000 disposable ones. At Womad the same year, it was 55,000.
Today, the company services around 90% of the New Zealand market, with only Laneway Festival in Auckland and Rhythm & Alps in Wanaka yet to end their single-use practices (“they’re just not interested in going disposable-free yet,” Everton says). The company has also entered the Australian market, where it’s serviced events like Vibe Festival, Woodford Folk Festival and the NRL Grand Final.
The cups, made using recycled plastic, are distributed at events using a deposit system where users pay around $2 or $3 for the right to use one. When the cup is returned, so is the deposit. If the person wants to keep the cup, they can take the cup home as a souvenir instead. In many respects, it’s a system that’s reminiscent of Germany’s ‘Pfand’ system, where you pay an additional few Euros as a deposit alongside your drink which is refunded to you when you bring your glass back. The system operates at many festivals, events and bars across the country, but also operates in wider German society where most bottled drinks have a ‘Pfand’ added on that can be refunded at places like supermarkets and bottle shops.
Various high profile events around the world have also employed similar systems in recent years. Stade de France in Paris was the first stadium in the world to go reusable back in 2010 (France was also the first country in the world to ban disposable plastic), while Brazilian beer company Skol’s reusable cups at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro turned out to be quite the valuable souvenir.
Everton says the ratio of cups that get returned versus kept differs from event to event. But for the ones that do get returned, the company’s next step is to go about washing, drying and storing them using its mechanical washing systems located at the Better Future Factory, Globelet’s hub for manufacturing, printing and cleaning its products.
“The factories wash any type of product, and we’ve also invented speciality drying machines that dry all reusable products,” says Everton. “All the water from production is [then] recycled and put back into the machines for more cups. We’re looking to recycle other peoples products and also wash them in the coming year.”
Globelet’s ambitions have clearly expanded since starting almost six years ago as it now offers everything from drink bottles to water refill stations. But in its most ambitious project yet, Globelet has its sights on taking its practices beyond the festival circuit over to entire cities, with plans to introduce trackable reusable plastics.
By harnessing the power of digitisation, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IOT), Globelet Cities works by having smart chips equipped with RFID tagging on reusable cups, bottles and containers across the city. These can then be scanned and connected to the Globelet network so that the company can track them down to wash, dry and distribute back into the market rather than having it go to landfill.
“Forty years of fragmented, incremental efforts have failed to deliver impact at scale. Recycling, biodegradable plastics and reusables don’t work. Rethinking the packaging in cities requires an ambitious, systemic approach,” it states on the Globelet website. “By using trackable technology, and connecting it to existing public infrastructure we can deliver impact at scale. With our IOT enabled reusable systems… we can track all our plastics, wash them and scale to shift the market.”
Everton says that we should be “prepared to see cities filled with reusable Globelet cups and washing centres” very soon, adding that the beta test for cities will be rolling out throughout the year at conferences and events.
Is it a lot to be asking entire cities to convert to a more reusable form of daily consumption? Even for the most environmentally-friendly communities out there, asking people to relinquish the comforts of disposable packaging is a lot to ask for. As Innocent Packaging founder Tony Small pointed out last month: “[While] the idea of reusable is fantastic, I don’t believe it’s realistic.”
But like any radical form of change, shifting behaviour – especially on a societal level – is an incremental process that takes time and effort. Realistic or not, Globelet is out to give it its best go. Who knows? Maybe we’ll all be drinking from smart chip enabled coffee cups in ten years’ time.
The Spinoff’s business content is brought to you by our friends at Kiwibank. Kiwibank backs small to medium businesses, social enterprises and Kiwis who innovate to make good things happen.
Subscribe to Rec Room a weekly newsletter delivering The Spinoff’s latest videos, podcasts and other recommendations straight to your inbox.