Student experience

Student-led BYO app promotes sustainability

June 02, 2021

From disposable masks and takeout containers to packaging for online shopping, the pandemic has only added the amount of waste we create.

A new student-led project aims to help reduce waste by motivating individuals to bring their own mugs (BYO) when visiting their local café. BYO is the brainchild of Simon Fraser University business student Priscilla Lam and University of British Columbia land and food systems student Angelica Tso.

Given life during a pandemic, Lam says “it can feel really overwhelming to think about sustainability or for people to believe they can make a positive change. What we want to do with BYO is to cultivate individual impacts towards something that’s more collective, tangible and visible.”

“Bringing your own cup is a small step but when it’s backed by a community it becomes a larger movement and encourages more people to embrace reuse culture,” she adds.

An award-winning project

BYO is a mobile app-based program that allows individuals to track how many cups they’ve saved by choosing to use a reusable mug and put those savings towards planting trees.

For every reusable mug purchase through the app, five cents will go towards the BYO Tree Fund, which is donated to Eden Reforestation Projects. BYO is currently being tested at two participating cafes – Kind Café and Teaspoons & Co., which will be followed by an expanded pilot phase launching in August. Learn more about the beta testing phase on the BYO website. Cafes that are interested in participating in the BYO pilot phase can inquire here.

Their BYO project proposal won an award in the 2020-21 SFU Student-Community Engagement Competition. Student designers and developers from SFU and UBC have also joined the project team to help make their idea a reality.

“This is not just about bringing your own cup – it’s about shifting the mindset towards a circular economy and different ways of thinking about consumerism and our consumer culture,” says Tso. “We need to move away from that fast and disposable economic structure towards an economy where we can internalize our impact, how we can change and realize our actions do have an impact.”

Left to right: Co-founders of BYO - Angelica Tso (UBC) & Priscilla Lam (SFU)

Moving towards a sustainable future

B.C. health authorities have not mandated a pause on reusable mug use during the pandemic. According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, businesses may choose to accept reusable beverage cups that employees handle, depending on store policy. As vaccinations increase and health officials continue to lift restrictions, it’s likely that more cafes will update their policies, adapting to current level of health risk. 

With that in mind the future looks bright for sustainable business initiatives such as BYO, particularly as new City of Vancouver bylaws for businesses to charge fees on single-use cups are scheduled to come into effect next year. The city also plans to ban plastic shopping bags in 2022 and require businesses to charge a fee for paper bags.

In Vancouver alone, the city estimates that 2.6 million paper cups are thrown away every week. Disposable cups, lids and sleeves are also one of the most commonly littered items on Vancouver streets. 

More than two million plastic bags, 2.6 million paper coffee cups, and countless foam takeout food containers are thrown out each week in Vancouver.

Following a successful pilot, the team hopes to continue running BYO as a social enterprise that promotes sustainability and waste reduction.