Bubble Tea‘s Waste Problem and the Reusable Alternative

Every week, there seems to be a new bubble tea joint popping up somewhere in Melbourne. The drink has long been a staple for Asian-Australians, but is now more mainstream than ever. However, as its popularity skyrockets, often overlooked is the plethora of single-use plastic waste discarded after a ten minute drink.

A medium-sized, busy bubble tea store is estimated to sell about 52 drinks an hour. That's 52 cups, 52 lids, 52 straws, 52 straw sleeves. Bubble tea cups are generally made out of low-density polyethylene, which is a type of plastic that is especially difficult to recycle. The high cost of recycling weighed against the low cost of crude oil used to manufacture new plastic means that almost all single use bubble tea cups end up in a landfill or in our oceans.

It's clear that plastic poses a myriad of problems; from the carbon emitted during the endless production of disposable items, to its resilience to breaking down at the end of its useful life-cycle. This begs the question - what our options if we don't want to contribute to this unsustainable cycle?

As an environmentalist back in the February of 2019, I found it difficult to come to terms with the amount of waste I was generating for a single drink. I had already been using a reusable coffee cup for my caffeine fix, and it seemed natural that a reusable cup was needed for bubble tea. A little over two months later, we had Australia's first dedicated reusable bubble tea cup, complete with a wide metal bubble tea straw.

At first, it seemed a bit strange to carry around a personal cup for bubble tea. However, Australians soon proved to be quite fond of the idea. In the months after we launched, the movement quickly gained momentum and we were struggling to fulfill orders as more and more people made the switch to a reusable bubble tea cup. The initial success inspired us to expand our colour choices and additionally develop a lightweight reusable plastic alternative.

A little over a year later, it's now commonplace to see people using reusable bubble tea cups when getting their weekly (or daily!) brown sugar fix at their local joints. One less cup thrown away, one less straw, a bit less guilt.

The best thing about small, visible environmentalism like this is that it sends a message to do something bigger. Every time we choose to reuse, it invites about a conversation about how we can be more responsible with our choices to make our future more sustainable.

Take a look at our reusable bubble tea ware here.