EXETER — Customers of Enna Chocolate, the town’s celebrated candy factory and café, are now able to enjoy their to-go coffees and, at the same time, take a stand on the environment.
Enna Chocolate has launched a program in which customers can rent either a 12- or 16-ounce insulated stainless steel mug with a deposit of $5. During their next coffee run, customers can swap it for a new clean mug and have an indefinite borrowing cycle.
“When we opened, we were committed to using all compostable products for our café,” said owner Enna Grazier. “As much as composting is better for the environment in some ways, reducing our waste is the most important factor in preventing bioplastics from going into the environment.”
Grazier is partnering with Forever Ware, a Minnesota-based and women-led startup company that specializes in reusable takeout containers. As of Tuesday, June 14, just five days into the launch, the café has rented 15 of 30 mugs available.
When returned, the containers will go through commercial dishwashing and sanitization before they are lent out again, similar to what the shop does with its ceramic cups.
Customers are allowed to bring in their own mugs, but some containers present difficulties for the baristas to make a specific drink because of measurements called for in recipes, Grazier said. The lendable program would ensure consistent cups in terms of shape and sizes, she said.
Building community around chocolate and coffee
Grazier’s journey of being waste-conscious started way before the commercialization of recycling. She said growing up in a western “cowboy” town, she appreciated not seeing litter.
“My parents and grandparents took us backpacking and hiking … it was always our tradition and habit to pick up trash that we found on the trails and leave a better place for whoever comes through next,” recalled Grazier. “That has always been part of my consciousness, and it just makes sense.”
Almost a decade ago, Grazier opened up her chocolate factory where products are made from bean-to-bar. In August 2020, she opened her café “as a way to show off our chocolates, offer coffee drinks and also build a community around our chocolate and coffee.”
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Current paper coffee cups are compostable, but they can only be broken down in an industrial compost system because the cups are lined with corn-based plastic for insulation.
In a poll that Grazier did among her customers, she found more than 85% of them did not dispose of the compostable paper cups properly. Those cups ended up in a recycling bin, which ended up in landfill.
The cups will biodegrade, but the corn-based plastic simply cannot when not in an industrialized setting.
“I was actually trying to look for a recyclable cup for coffee but that doesn’t exist,” she said.
Grazier hopes other cafes will follow lead
Driven by passion and help from the University of Oregon, a pioneer in campus recycling, Grazier first learned of the lendable cup program.
The concept is widely used in Germany, Australia, Japan and South Korea, just to name a few, she said.
“In Germany, it’s actually a nationwide program where you can go to any cafe or a restaurant and get your food and drinks in a reusable container and then you can return it to any of these restaurants or cafes,” said Grazier.
“Customers are excited, and it just feels like it’s a big missing piece of our food and service industry in the Seacoast and New England. I think a lot of people are wanting this sort of thing, they just don’t know that this is what they want.”
Grazier hopes the practice spreads.
“I want this to extend and grow beyond my cafe,” said Grazier. “We really want customers to associate this program much like borrowing a book from the library.”