Mailo Power, founder of Monkey Cups, didn’t originally set out to design a permanent replacement for disposable coffee cups. A hotel designer and artist, Mailo and her husband were hoteliers in Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city, while living in the picture-perfect seaside village of Dunmore East in County Waterford. But, living by the sea, she says, she became “very aware of waste getting into the waterways.”
So, it troubled her that guests in their 29 hotel rooms discarded as many as 100 disposable cups per day. How could that be, Mailo wondered, when so many of her visitors brought along their own reusable travel cups? The answer to the mystery came as a bit of a shock. Because many of the standard reusable to-go cups don’t fit under coffee machines, “Our team were making the coffee in disposables, then immediately transferring it into [the guests’] reusable travel cups,” says Mailo.
The disposables had, quite literally, only a few seconds of useful life before becoming waste.
At first, the solution seemed simple: buy reusable to-go cups for guests that would
fit under the coffee dispensers. But no one in Ireland made such an item. Mailo discovered that she’d have to order from Australian companies. Transporting cups halfway around the world didn’t seem very environmentally friendly. There had to be a better way.
“So, I did some sketches at my kitchen table in March of 2018,” she says. “It was important to me that it offered a premium coffee experience, because people love their coffee. I didn't want to have just a plastic cup because the importance is that people enjoy using them.”
Her prototype design was a comfortably proportioned 12-ounce cup made from a toughened thermal borosilicate glass, able to withstand boiling liquids. This cup was wrapped with an extra-wide food-grade silicone band to protect the hand from the heat, and topped with a lid that has a built-in slider which allows sipping when open, and keeps everything spill-proof when shut.
But what to name her creation?
Mailo recalled a tale from the 1950s—the 100th
monkey phenomenon of social change. A little 18-month old snow monkey named Imo began washing the sand from potatoes left on the beach by researchers observing her troop. Seeing this, others in her troop also began rinsing their food. By the time the 100th
monkey had learned the trick, the potato-washing behavior had spontaneously spread to far-flung monkey troops that had never observed it before. The message, whether fact or fancy, is that when a good idea reaches critical mass in one place—in 100 monkeys or humans or 1,000—it changes behavior everywhere.
In Ireland alone, up to 200 million single-use coffee cups are thrown away every year, according to a study by the government-funded Recycling List Ireland. That’s 528,000 every day, or 22,000 an hour.
If her reusable cup caught on with enough people in Ireland, might the decision to switch to a more sustainable solution spread beyond those shores on its own? With that hope in mind, Mailo decided to call her creations Monkey Cups.
Monkey Cups made their debut at the Showcase Ireland in Dublin, Ireland, in January 2019, and became an immediate hit. Consumers and retailers are increasingly aware of the waste implication of single-use products, such as paper disposable coffee cups, and are looking for ways to avoid them. Several businesses were eager to partner with Monkey Cups, so Mailo designed custom silicone bands that display both the partner companies’ and Monkey Cups’ logos. Today, less than a year into production, Monkey Cups have also replaced paper and plastic for the workforces of a number of environmentally conscious Irish companies.
And they are also nudging out paper and plastics at large conferences, says Mailo. “It says a lot about a company if they, as part of their welcome pack, have a reusable coffee cup. It sends the message that ‘we're sustainable.’”
Online sales and exports round out the Monkey Cups market. “We had our first delivery to Lyon, France in August,” she says. “France have now banned single-use plastic disposable cups from 2020 and is the first country to do so. So that's going to be a very large market for us.” The online business has also sold Monkey Cups to buyers in the UK, Sweden, Brussels, Portugal, and Spain.
“And so, we will now be looking to expand into other markets,” she says. “We're very much open to collaboration in other countries.”
For more information about Monkey Cups, please visit: https://monkeycups.ie
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