How to Start A Mug Library

We all live in towns or cities with heaps of cafes on every corner. Let's reduce the takeaway cups that are polluting our local. 

HOW? Set up a Mug Library!

A mug library is a stash of mugs at the cafe, which customers can access as an alternative to plastic-lined takeaway coffee cups and plastic lids. Neither of which get recycled. All of which are single-use. Thus, hugely wasteful and fortunately, completely avoidable! 

boomerng cups


STEPS to set up MUG LIBRARIES or "BOOMERANG MUGS" at a local cafe:

1. Meet with the Manager & suggest they help their customers build the BYO Cup habit through a one month trial of the Mug Library. 

2. Go to an Op Shop or Thrift Store & buy 30 mugs. Avoid ceramics over $2, stick with the 50 cent-ers or $1 spend. Obviously, this is loose and all rare epic mugs should likely be collected, if not for your personal stash, for your fav cafe. (Though do not become attached, these will get scooped up quickly.) Compost the paper stickers and wash all cups thoroughly!

3. Put the mugs into a cute basket, wooden box, or crate. You could collect from an op shop or make your own. It should look appealing, with the cups invitingly positioned with handles out! 

4. Make a sign that reads something along these lines: "BOOMERANG CUPS: to borrow with a donation & bring back!" Optional to include some encouragement such as "Help reduce takeaway cup pollution and Bring your own cup! If you forget, borrow one of ours." Or inspire action with a few stats:

  • Coffee cups are estimated to be the second-largest contributor to litter waste after plastic bottles.

  • It is estimated Australians use 1 billion disposable coffee cups each year.

  • That's approximately 2,700,000 paper coffee cups thrown out every day!

  • If you buy just one cup of coffee or tea in a disposable cup every day, you’ll end up creating about 23 lbs of waste in one year.

  • According to a study conducted by Starbucks and the Alliance for the Environmental Innovation (April 2000), each paper cup manufactured is responsible for 0.24 lbs of CO2 emissions.


5. Have a jar labeled DONATIONS next to the cups. If you feel the need to specify, "$1 to Borrow, $2 to Keep" or "Mugs for Gold Coin Donations"

6. Inform the Manager of the importance of getting staff on board. The employees should be letting customers know about the mug library! They should feel inspired to be able to make a difference in each transaction that a customer goes for a mug over a plastic-lined takeaway cup! Also key to the whole process, is emphasising to the employees that $1 or $2 donations are crucial for each mug, as this is what keeps the library sustainable. Each donation goes to replacing the mug if it is kept by a customer and helps expand the program to include more cafes. Leave your phone number/email address for when the mugs run out and need replacing!

7. Set up library & watch the environmental karma rain down upon you with all of the nature miracles showering your life with wonder.

8. Take all the cute pics and give to the cafe to help them promote the new mug library on their socials. Hopefully they already give 50cents off if you BYO mug, so this will be a nice way to advertise this program to their networks. 




Be sure to check in on the library throughout the month trial to ensure they are all clean and the display is appealing. Bring along a basket of spare mugs to top up the library. Take the donations to the op shop to collect more mugs for the next top up!


Meet with the manager to see how the trial went. Hopefully it was a smashing success and all the customers felt good about being the change they wish to see in the world and eco-vibes are high across the board for all humans in the mug library's vicinity. Excellent, expand trial to full time program.


Make a list of the benefits of the program as per discussion with the Manager, especially any cost savings. Take this list to other cafes--along with the cute pics--and offer to set up a Mug Library for them as well. etc. etc. Scale, scale, scale.  



The truth is, it's all a confusing mess and it is different in every town. So error on the side of reusable mug.

Disposable coffee cups claim to be recyclable, some claim to be compostable and others are sold as biodegradable.

Recyclable: Whether a plastic-coated paper cup is recyclable varies from area to area, with some local councils accepting coffee cups as part of their recycling process, while others exclude them and dump them in landfill.

Compostable: When the materials of these cups break down, they are supposed to be suitable for using in compost. However composting is not widely available in Australia, so cups are put in household or community compost. Most compostable coffee cups still end up in landfill.

Biodegradable: Generally, this involves using an additive in the oil-based plastic lining which will break down when deprived of oxygen. But the scientific evidence has not sufficiently proven that this does in fact work.




Kathryn NelsonComment