Abigail Forsyth of KeepCup:

Starting a reusable movement

In this episode of Plastics Revolution, I chat with Abigail Forsyth, the co-founder and managing director of KeepCup.

Abigail and her brother were running a number of cafes in the Melbourne area when they recognised the amount of disposable coffee cups going through their business and ending up in landfill.  Even worse, they couldn’t believe that there wasn’t already a reusable alternative on the market.

Ten years later, the KeepCup brand has become the generic term for a reusable coffee cup in many places.

We hope you enjoy this episode of Plastics Revolution with Abigail Forsyth of KeepCup.


Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange
Produced by Jonny Puskas
Theme Music by Joseph McDade
All Rights Reserved 2020

Topics from this episode:

  • 0.00 | Intro
  • 1.51 | How did KeepCup get started?
  • 4.24 | Abigail’s “why”
  • 5.10 | First steps
  • 7.25 | Funding the business and testing their minimum viable product
  • 9.19 | Made in Australia
  • 11.45 | What is quality?
  • 14.13 | Coffee culture acceptance
  • 15.30 | Impacts of Covid
  • 18.21 | From start-up to a global company
  • 20.27 | All English-speaking markets are different
  • 22.52 | Customisations
  • 23.10 | Dealing with cheaper competitors
  • 25.10 | What does it mean to be a “B Corps”
  • 28.22 | Star Wars KeepCups?
  • 30.03 | The challenges of making the KeepCup from recycled materials
  • 32.28 | Break-even lifecycle analysis of the KeepCup versus single-use
  • 33.31 | Future developments
  • 35.04 | A business with purpose
  • 36.54 | Where to buy a KeepCup?

Quotes from Abigail Forsyth in this episode:

‘And I still remember back in the early 2000s – a lawyer saying to me, “I feel like a baby drinking out of this sort of sippy cup.” And years later, we’re all drinking out of them and no one is thinking twice about it.’

“I did a bit of research, found out that they (single-use cups) were not recyclable and that they were actually a really thin plastic cup – a polyethylene cup, usually with a paper lining, and just became concerned about the number of them we went through as a business.”

“I looked around just initially just to find a reusable cup to, you know, to sell in our cafes and to encourage people to reuse. And when I went to the shops, I couldn’t find anything.”

“We saved money as a business every time they did (bring their reusable cup), because the disposable packaging cost us 70 cents and we were giving people 50 cents off. So financially, it was a win, win.”

“My grandfather always said lots of people talk about things that few people do them.”

“I thought, would I give her (Abigail’s daughter) the milk in a disposable cup? And that idea just seemed so wrong to be teaching a child that, you know, you just drink out of something and throw it in a bin.”

‘One of the manufacturers said to me, “You know, you’re just making a plastic cup. Like, what are you thinking?… So, what I would suggest to you is before you go into tooling, go and try and sell it.”

“I think I called about 150 companies and, you know, went to the catering manager, and then asked to speak to the sustainability manager who never had a budget. So, then I had to get to the marketing manager and, you know, really got to refine the pitch.”

“We sold 10,000 cups before we even had finished making the tool.”

“It seemed self-evident to me that in order to be a business that was about sustainability and reducing impact, we had to do everything at every stage of the journey to reduce impacts. So, making the product in Australia, we never looked anywhere else.”

“Part of the sustainability of the product is that it’s modular so that if you’ve got a drawer of KeepCups, you can put any lid on any product. Or if you break something, you can just replace the part.”

‘If you get the people behind the coffee machine endorsing it and going, “Cool KeepCup,” then you’re going to build audience quickly. Because one of the biggest impediments for people is … not wanting to put someone out by going in and saying, “Can you please fill this for me?”’

‘We know firsthand how tight margins are in cafes. And so, we’ve always walked a line where we’ve sort of encouraged people to reuse and not, you know, advocated a ban on single use. But I think coming out of this crisis, there needs to be much stronger action around climate. And I think that what we’re seeing is a lot of cafes now coming out and saying, “We’re actually not going to use disposable cups at all. We’re going to have to relook at our business model.”’

‘There’s a quote from Thomas Carlyle that I love, “that the merit of originality is not novelty, it’s sincerity.”

“If you scratch the surface of our business and our brand, we are true to everything we stand by from front to back. I think is part of what’s had us, you know, stand the test of time.”

“The authenticity of our voice around calling out single use has stood us in good stead… we were giving that message when it was unpopular to say. But holding true to our values has, you know, has meant that we’ve had longevity because of that.”

“We’ve been a B Corps since 2014 and those requirements keep ratcheting up as you are a B Corps for a longer period of time. But it has also given us great insight into what best practise looks like. So, from those assessments, you get great ideas about how you want to make your business better.”

“Ten years ago, to become sustainable or to identify as green was seen as quite a huge undertaking. And I think what KeepCup did at the point in time that we entered the market was to become a really easy entry point to that conversation that you didn’t need to fully identify as green… but there’s been this growing awakening that the problem is so big and so catastrophic that any effort that we make is going to make a difference.”

Links & Resources

Books mentioned: