SFU alum co-creates new app encouraging cafés and consumers to go green

Out with paper cups, in with reusable mugs

Bringing your own cup is now even more rewarding. Image courtesy of BYO

By: Nancy La, Staff Writer

Bringing your own (BYO) cup to cafés to reduce waste is already a great act of sustainability, but two climate activists have created an online platform to make it even more rewarding. Founded by SFU alum and former chair of Embark Sustainability Priscilla Lam and UBC student Angelica Tso, the BYO app aims to develop a more sustainable café culture by decreasing the usage of disposable cups. Through the app, users are encouraged and rewarded for bringing their own reusable cups to participating stores.

I downloaded the app and tried using it myself. The app is built by students, and while there are pauses during the loading process, the app runs smoothly when scanning barcodes. I visited one of BYO’s two partner cafés, Teaspoon & Co (the other being Kind Cafe in Mount Pleasant), and got a free topping for using the app. Instead of paying 5 cents extra for drink toppings, the money went towards the Eden Reforestation Projects. Every five scans equals a tree planted. This exemplifies the mentality of “every small act matters” that Lam and Tso built into the project itself. 

The app’s purpose “is to bring visibility to a practice that is normally invisible,” Lam said. “We saw that there was no centralized platform or centralized place for people to bring their own cup and feel comfortable doing it. The whole point is to normalize bringing your own cup so that the default is not disposable cups, the default is reusables.” 

Paper cups have long been regarded as the greener alternative to plastic cups used at cafés, yet according to Lam and Tso, the truth is much more complicated. 

“The outside part [of the paper cup] is made of paper [ . . . ] but the inside always has some sort of waterproof, plastic lining,” preventing the cup from disintegrating, Tso said.

“That’s why the recycling process also gets complicated because that means, when it does get recycled, they would have to separate that lining. And often, that process is so much more energy-consuming/time-consuming, and it just ends up being thrown in the landfill because it’s not worth it for recycling companies to have to go through that process,” Tso explained. 

Instead of going for paper cups, Lam and Tso want consumers to shift towards a “reuse” culture.

“There’s a reason why recycling is at the bottom [ . . . ] it’s really intensive,“ Lam said, pointing to the three Rs — reduce, reuse, and recycle. 

As the BYO app illuminated in an Instagram post, a July 2020 report from an international panel of health experts stated “reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene.” However, many cafés have continued suspending reusable cup programs due to COVID-19. BYO’s goal is to continue raising awareness about Vancouver’s disposable waste problem and encourage reusable solutions whenever possible. 

You can download the BYO app on Google Play or through Testflight for iOS. More information can be found on their website.